Roadmap for 9 Worcester neighborhood pools (It can be done!)

By Cha Cha Connor

The Save Our Poolz Coalition recently unveiled a plan to rebuild nine neighborhood pools for Worcester at the Worcester Youth Center on Chandler Street.

The public meeting had 75 people in attendance, most of them youth and residents of Worcester’s neighborhoods, showing support for the rebuilding of the nine City pools that have all been closed for the first time this summer. Also in attendance were City Councilors Phil Palmieri, Barbara Haller, Joe Petty, Rick Rushton, Gary Rosen, Kate Toomey, Paul Clancy, Joff Smith, and Mayor KonstantinaLukes. Candidates for City Council were also in attendance, including Grace Ross, Mary Keefe, Kola Akindele, and Steven Buchalter.

Patricia Feraud of Toxic Soil Busters, and Reverend Sarai Rivera from Iglesia Cristiana de la Comunidad (Christian Community Church) reminded those in attendance that in conversations about the pools at City Hall, the people have spoken – but we haven’t been listened to. Patricia pointed out that again and again, whether in a survey of over 600 Worcester residents, in the two years worth of meetings with City Councilors, or in the six public hearings attended by over 500 residents, Worcester residents have told Council and the City Administration that we need to rebuild all of our nine municipal pools.The neighborhood swimming pools function as important, out door drop-in community centers, where youth and adults can cool off, have fun, and learn valuable skills. Again and again, most recently in the public hearings on the pools from March to June, 2009, the people have said that having nine accessible pools is important and finding a solution should be the priority.

On June 3, 2009, residents attended a final public hearing, where we expected to hear what the City proposed in light of our strong testimony in favor of rebuilding the nine pools that we already have in our neighborhoods. We were very surprised when, instead, a company called Weston and Sampson gave us a presentation for a plan to build only three pools, each with a total price tag of $2 million to $2.4 million dollars, each of which was much larger than the neighborhood pools we have now. The total on this three pool project would be around $7.5 million.

The proposed Weston and Sampson pools would be 9,875 square feet in total. But the neighborhood pools that we have now are either 3,600 square feet or 5,679 square feet. In other words, Weston and Sampson’s model is much bigger than the pools we have now – and much more expensive to build. The people at the hearings were clear – we want our accessible pools that we can actually get to, not large pools that are far away from our neighborhoods and inaccessible to young children, people without cars, and others with transportation issues.

Save Our Poolz started asking questions in other communities faced with rebuilding their pools. We didn’t believe that it takes $2 million to rebuild a neighborhood pool facility. And sure enough, it doesn’t. In Pittsfield, Maine, they rebuilt their pool facility for $500,000. In Garden City, Missouri, they rebuilt their pool facility for $1.3 million. And these figures include decking, fencing, and a bathhouse – not just the pool. Based on research in other communities, and with the help of several pool companies, Save Our Pools concluded that it is possible to build a new neighborhood size pool facility, of the kind we have now, for around $1 million.

At the Youth Center meeting, the two key aspects of our roadmap to nine neighborhood size pools for Worcester were:

1. Affordable and sustainable neighborhood-sized pools must be built, rather than large Weston and Sampson pool models, and

2. A multi-partner Task Force to rebuild nine municipal pools must guide the process from start to finish, including the rebuilding of nine pools and creating funds for long-term maintenance.
In other words, if we build Weston and Sampson model pools, it probably is impossible to build more than three, given how expensive they are. BUT, if instead we rebuild pools we have now – for around $1 million each – it is possible for us to keep nine municipal pools. For three Weston and Sampson pools, the City would spend $7.5 million. But with the Save Our Poolz plan, $7.5 million could make our money go a lot farther.

Save Our Poolz was lucky to have with us Chris Knight, from Custom Pools in New Hampshire, and Mark Chestney, from Paddock Pools in South Carolina. They both have over 40 years of experience building all kinds of aquatics facilities – including municipal pools. Both of them said that a municipal pool, of the size that Worcester has now, can be built realistically for $1 million each. Mr. Chestney expressed that he actually thought $1 million was a high number, and that they could be done for less.

The second proposal, for a multi-partner Task Force, is a long standing proposal from Save Our Poolz and comes from an understanding that if we are going to build and sustain all nine pools, we are going to need to work together, fundraise, and perhaps create a fund for ongoing maintenance and operational costs. We recommended that the City put forward $7.5 million, the same as they would for Weston and Sampson’s proposal, and use $5 million of that to build five pools by 2010.

At the same time Save Our Poolz would like to work with the City, community members, and private, business, and institutional partners in order to create the funds to cover the rebuilding of all nine neighborhood size pools. These partners are necessary to make the Task Force a success.

A Task Force would also need to create a way to pay for maintenance and staffing at the pools. Currently, funds for lifeguards can be provided by the federal Workforce Investment Act (WIA) and YouthWorks, a Massachusetts state youth jobs program. Maintenance, and future staffing, are ongoing challenges for sustainability. An idea Save Our Poolz has put forward is an endowment for the pools, with help from Worcester organizations like Park Spirit.

The idea of an endowment is that it is self sustaining through investment and interest. However, federal and state partners will continue to be important in strategizing how we can continue to fund lifeguards, with an emphasis on hiring neighborhood youth. Probably, a combination of advocacy at the state and federal levels, plus local fundraising efforts, is going to be needed in order to create funds for maintenance and lifeguards.

Unexpended money from the original $7.5 million, after building the first five neighborhood pools, would come to about $2.5 million. This should be used by the Task Force to leverage funds for the remaining pools and fora maintenance and staffing endowment. One common way of fundraising is matching funds – in other words, showing that the City is willing to put up a certain amount of money, and then asking private organizations and businesses to match that amount. We believe, for this reason, that it is important that the City not spend all it’s money at once. The money left over from building the first five pools should be used to leverage more money – that’s the way we’re going to fundraise enough for nine pools and operations.

The Task Force will be instrumental in making this happen – but it’s only going to work if all partners, including residents and community members, work together and creatively.

Save Our Poolz concluded our presentation by saying that we are ready to work with the City – but, as hundreds of residents have been saying for almost three years now, the project we want to work together on is for the building of nine pools. We hope that the City Council and Administration is ready to work with us on this exciting project. We deserve better than closed down, run down pools – and with a neighborhood size pools plan, we can rebuild all nine and open new, swimmable outdoor facilities for recreation in our communities.

Leave a Reply