With the idea of obtaining results in time for a spring bonding package, a group of local residents plan to file a petition asking electors to fund a study that would determine the feasibility of converting Mills Pond Pool into a year-round facility.
Wednesday, resident Frank Culkin, also a Parks and Recreation commissioner, presented the Board of Selectmen with a “Mills Pond Pool Revitalization Venture” report. Using data he’s gathered, along with information provided by USA Swimming, Culkin believes that the use of a seasonal architectural membrane over the pool and a device that splits the water into two 25-yard swimming areas, could result in expanded programming and rental opportunities that within a few years could turn the pool into a facility that loses approximately $60,000 a year into one that is self sustaining and even profitable.
Revenue ideas would include programs for learn to swim, physical therapy, fitness and competitive swimming.
Culkin was hoping selectmen would authorize up to $12,500 in existing capital improvement money to fund an independent study to validate the ideas. The town could also recoup as much as $4,000 of that through a USA Swimming grant, he added.
Many selectmen, however, expressed concerns, including the absence of a formal Parks and Recreation Commission recommendation to go forward with such as study.
“I thought it was pretty clear we charged the park and rec commission to come back to us with recommendation,” First Selectman Richard Barlow said, referencing an earlier vote to have the commission develop a business plan.
While the commission has discussed the issue and in December voted to get proposals on the cost of a study, Culkin acknowledged that there was not a consensus to go forward right now.
However, he contended there's a ground-swell of support and said the timing is critical so some improvements could potentially be added to a spring bonding package if the town moves forward with sending garage and road improvement projects to voters. (Bonding is essentially the town's way to borrow money and pay it back over time).
Parks Commission Christopher Eckert was also at the Wednesday meeting. He said the commission members agree the study should be done but some feel the timing is not right.
Eckert said that there’s two main lines of discussion for the pool — getting the most out of the $400,000 the town recently approved for upgrades and improvements and a long-term plan.
Questions remain about the long-term plan for the pool and even the details and idea of covering the facility, Eckert said. Some question whether the issue can really be vetted by spring.
“Are we ready to put a cover on it? No,” Eckert said. “Will we be ready in two months to put a cover on it? No.”
On Wednesday, selectman Tom Sevigny challenged that notion.
“Why wouldn’t you want to go look at this and find out once and for all if we can do this?” he asked.
According to Parks and Recreation Commission meeting minutes, however, some members are concerned with spending the money for the study before other improvements are completed, in the event that some extra is needed.
While Culkin’s report projects that the facility could begin turning a profit in 2015, some also question the ability of the town to sustain the level of programming needed to turn the profit.
For example in 2018, the report projects a net revenue of $153,629 after $614,083 in budget expenses and $767,713 in income.
Selectman Steve Roberto said such a scenario could really place the town in a bad position if that revenue wasn’t realized. The town would still carry the expense, he said.
“Geographically I don’t think the town could handle the demand it would take to generate that revenue,” Roberto said. He also said the pool is also a public service and the town needs to ensure residents have adequate access to it.
Selectman Lowell Humphrey also expressed concerns that parking is already an issue and may not sustain some of the revenue-generating events.
“Parking there is woefully inadequate,” said Humphrey, former police chief in town.
Still, advocates say now is the time to let an independent expert determine the validity of the report's ideas.
With no action from selectmen, Culkin said resident Rob Miller would submit a petition to bring the issue to town meeting. The petition is for the town meeting to address whether to spend up to $12,500 for independent feasibility study on the issue. A total of 150 signatures are required, which Miller said have already been gathered.
According to town charter, the issue would have to pass at town meeting with at least 75 affirmative votes by qualified electors.
See the attached pdf for more details on Culkin's report.