SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

November 1, 2013

Pool project up for vote Monday

Is it 'waterworld' or a worthwhile investment?

By Jonathan Phelps
Staff writer

---- — HAMILTON — Town Meeting voters will be asked next week to spend $2.5 million to replace the Patton Park swimming pool.

The projects calls for a six-lane lap pool with a zero-entry swim area, which allows people to enter the water by walking down a gradual slope, similar to a beach. There would also be a kiddie pool, a new bathhouse, increased deck space and seating, a lifeguard station and reconfigured parking.

Part of the cost will include reconstructing the septic system to handle the increased use.

The project has generated some controversy, however, with those opposed saying it is too big and too expensive, referring to it as an extravagant “waterworld.”

If approved, the project would be paid for with community preservation funds, said Sean Timmons, the Hamilton-Wenham recreation director.

“The $2.5 million includes everything, not just the pool,” Timmons said.

The Special Town Meeting will take place Monday, Nov. 4, at 7 p.m. in the Hamilton-Wenham High School auditorium.

The current pool was built in 1961 by the members of the American Legion and has a variety of drawbacks, including leaks, outdated equipment, lack of space and code issues, according to Weston & Sampson Aquatics Group, a firm hired to oversee the project. It is undersized for the needs of the community, said Timothy Sheehan, senior project manager for the Aquatics Group.

Sheehan said it would less expensive to build a new pool than to renovate and retrofit the old pool. He estimated that a new pool would draw triple the number of users, based on similar projects elsewhere.

Bob Gray of Enough is Enough, a fiscal watchdog group, said the community preservation money would be better spent on expanding the senior center or making Town Hall handicapped-accessible.

“The taxpayers will be asked if they want to spend this kind of money on a recreation facility that will be used for approximately eight to 10 weeks of the year,” he wrote in a letter.

Emily Sumner, who served on the Pool Committee that looked into the different options, disagrees with the “waterworld” claim.

“There is no fountain. There are no big slides,” she said. “There is nothing crazy. It doesn’t have anything over-the-top. It will accommodate our community comfortably.”

Sumner worked on the Friends of Patton Park’s push to raise money to build a new playground at the park. The group is helping spread the message about the pool effort and encouraging residents to vote yes.

“We believe this pool project is an incredible investment and asset to our community,” Sumner said, noting that people of all ages can use the pool.

As for the complaint that it will be open only during the summer, she said it’s well worth the investment.

“That is when everyone is outside,” she said. “That is how we build a community.”

Timmons said the new pool with meet all current codes and allow for expanded programming for people of all ages. Many programs, such as a swim team, swimming lessons, lap swimming and family swim, can all occur at the same time, he said, which is not the case now.

The Hamilton-Wenham Recreation Committee unanimously approved the proposal.

“Those were the features the Recreation Committee thought were appropriate for the programs we want to offer,” Timmons said.

The zero-entry pool makes it compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and makes the pool accessible for all ages, from young children just learning to swim to the elderly. It will open up to an activity area, which can be used for swim lessons and water exercise groups.

While connected, the six-lane lap pool is separate from the activity area, according to conceptual plans.

The pool is used by the Hamilton-Wenham Recreation summer programs, but the Wenham Community Preservation Committee refused to approve funding for the project.

Wenham could decide to contribute to the project in the future, or Hamilton could charge Wenham residents extra to use the pool complex if it is built.

If approved, the project is expected to be completed by July 2014.

Staff writer Jonathan Phelps can be reached at 978-338-2527 or by email at jphelps@salemnews.com. Follow him on Twitter at JPhelps_SN.