SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

November 5, 2013

Pool project fails by 2 votes

By Jonathan Phelps
Staff writer

---- — HAMILTON — A controversial proposal to build a new $2.5 million swimming pool at Patton Park was rejected at Special Town Meeting last night by two votes.

While the motion passed 219 to 112, it did not achieve the required two-thirds majority, or at least 67 percent of vote. At least 221 votes were needed for the motion to pass, according to Town Clerk Jane Wetson.

Selectmen Chairman Marc Johnson said the only chance for a recount on the proposal was if a motion for one was made at last night’s meeting. No such motion was made.

The project was supported by selectmen, the Finance Committee and the Hamilton-Wenham Recreation Committee, which has three members from each town.

The vote came after about an hour of contentious debate on the proposal that was presented by town officials and consultants from Weston & Sampson. The project would have been paid for with Community Preservation funds.

Many opponents called for more research and for the project to be brought back to the annual Town Meeting in April. North Street resident Jay Burnham called for a motion to postpone the vote to the spring Town Meeting, but it failed.

Chebacco Road resident Bill Dery called the project an “elaborate and nonessential” amenity. He argued the current pool can be repaired for far less.

“The presentation we were just given depicts a very big and very, very nice pool with a lot of nice amenities,” Dery said. “There seems to be two things missing though: a castle and Mickey. What are they thinking? Spending $2.65 million for an amenity that serves a few hundred people for approximately 10 weeks.”

However, not everyone agreed.

“This project is the most impactful, most positive CPA project I’ve ever seen,” said Dave Carey, a former selectman. “It really looks like a beautiful project to bring the community together.”

The pool project called 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. It also included a kiddie pool, a new bathhouse, increased deck space and seating, a lifeguard station and reconfigured parking.

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

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current pool was built in 1961 by the members of the American Legion and has a variety of drawbacks, including leaks, outdated equipment, lack of space and code issues, according to Weston & Sampson Aquatics Group, a firm hired to oversee the project.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 Cheri Ruane of Weston & Sampson.

Ruane said it would be cost-prohibitive to renovate the pool to meet current codes and standards.

Appaloosa Lane resident Nancy Allen spoke in favor of the pool, saying it would be a great investment for the town. She supported the size and scope of the project, noting that there are pools like this in municipalities all over the country.

“There are many, many community members within Hamilton and Wenham that don’t have access to pools,” she said. “The pool is a community place for people to enjoy, not just children, but for older people and individuals, as well.”

Another sticking point was the fact that Wenham has not decided how, or when, it might contribute to the project. Both towns share a recreation department.

“I think we need to spend time working with Wenham to come up with a common idea for the pool,” said resident Jack Hauck. Others questioned why Wenham would contribute to a project that Hamilton had already agreed to pay for.

While the pool proposal failed, residents approved $3.1 million in school boilers and window improvements last night. These projects now require approval from Wenham’s Town Meeting tonight and debt-exclusion overrides of Proposition 21/2 ballot votes from both towns to move forward.

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.