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Canton Residents Plan to File Petition to Fund Study on Converting Pool into Year-Round Facility

Some Parks and Recreation Commissioners, selectmen not convinced timing is right.

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. 

Kevin Jackson January 25, 2013 at 09:16 AM
It's very disconcerting to see some of our elected officials, after publicly requesting this study be performed, summarily dismiss a reasonable request even without the polite and objective consideration it so rightfully deserves, Shame on them for their behavior. The people will speak, they deserve honest answers to reasonable questions, and some elected officials hidden agendas will soon be brought to light. So sad it has to come to this. Where is the transparency so many who elected this bunch thought they would receive?
Lowell Humphrey January 25, 2013 at 10:21 AM
My comments as a selectman regarding parking at Mills Pond reflect my experience as the parent of a former USA Swimming member (evening practice at UHart) and as Canton's Legal Traffic Authority for fourteen years. The idea being considered anticipates generating rental revenue (by holding swim meets) to make a year-round pool operation revenue neutral. Typical swim meets involve daylong events (over the course of a weekend) with multiple teams participating in order to cover costs. Hundreds of cars & spectators cycle through as various age groups participate throughout the day, with significant overlap. Without even getting into the question of how the crowd of swimmers & spectators are accommodated within the enclosure (food, restrooms, changing, bleachers, etc) we have to park them and provide safe access. At the same time we have to maintain order and traffic flow in the immediate neighborhood. If we plan on generating revenue we have to have appropriate and adequate exterior infrastructure to support such traffic or our facility will simply not be rented after the initial bad experience. And there goes the revenue ..... I believe that town staff can explore and answer these questions prior to spending thousands of dollars on the mentioned pool feasibility study.
Brad Babbitt January 25, 2013 at 10:48 AM
Getting some objective, fact-based information about the opportunities and costs of this project would be the prudent and sensible next-step. The cost of doing so is reasonable. If our town government continues to insist on leading from the rear, the governed will step out front, again, and show them the way.
wendy January 25, 2013 at 12:24 PM
So there was no recommendation from the Park and Rec Commission to go forward with this study? That was their charge....did they vote or not on it? What happens if there are more problems with the shell than the $400,000 can fix? Do we spend money on a study, when we don't even know, at this point, if the pool is going to last? I appreciate the swim team parents wanting this.....but it is the Town's money and we are all taxpayers and have the right to ask questions and want answers before spending more money.
Hrico January 25, 2013 at 01:31 PM
Kevin Jackson... Here we go again. I just listened to the recording of the Board of Selectmens meeting. There was reference to Mr Jackson's presence at the meeting as well. He knows the truth. The questions were answered quite clearly several times by the First Selectmen. The request came from one member of the Park and Recreation Commission, clearly without a consensus, to spend over &12,000 on a study. The cost for the study came from one source and with no other estimates and was received outside of the formal bidding process that the Board of Selectmen are bound to abide by. Seems pretty simple to me. Follow procedures. Jacksons doesn't like the answer he got so he does what he always does. Cry to his circle of uninformed voters and spread misinformation. He talks about transparency and agendas... Be careful Canton. Get the facts for yourself. When Jackson ran one of the largest campaigns for Selectman that this town has seen in quite some time he boasted about all the support he had. Hundreds of people. It turned out to be just that. A few hundred people. I sat behind him and watched his previous swing at this pool project. he talks about getting over a thousand signatures on a petition. Nope... About 300. This guy's boat is slowly sinking. I'll admit it. I voted for him. But I jumped ship. Let's hear your truth Jackson. Or perhaps Wyatt would like to handle that for you.
Kimberly January 25, 2013 at 02:21 PM
The residents of Canton should ask themselves: Would you like to swim laps and take water exercise classes here in town rather than drive 30+ minutes and/or pay exorbitant health club fees? Would you like for our children to take winter swim classes in OUR town? Would you like our kids to swim on a LOCAL winter swim team? And have the opportunity to create a Canton High School swim team? And how about keep all those fees that you just paid to other towns and facilities in CANTON? A feasibility study would address these questions. Collect the data and let it speak for itself.
Wyatt January 25, 2013 at 02:34 PM
Looks like a great idea and would be a boon for Canton and its residents. I just dont' see why the Selectman are holding this up - it is a project people actually want and would use (unlike the pie in the sky hydro project). Let's hope this passes!
Larry Litton January 25, 2013 at 06:04 PM
Our town residents and leadership desperately need to start thinking outside the box on this and most other economic challanges the town faces. To continue to do things the way they have always been done and expect different results is the very definition of insanity. State and federal funding to Canton is going to start dropping dramatically and we need to become more self sufficient! For a minimal investment we can get an objective assessment of the pro's and con's of covering the pool. Why wouldn't we explore this?
wendy January 25, 2013 at 06:08 PM
So why didn't the Park and Rec commission go forward with the recommendation?
Canton Taxpayer January 25, 2013 at 07:30 PM
LOL...you're quite right....all of his posturing at Board meetings are just to get his name out so one day he'll get elected. As for the pool study, I don't see why spending $12,500 to do a study of something that's going to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars is necessary....we just can't keep spending money we don't have....at the bonding rate we're going -- we're going to be Bankrupt Canton....
Chris and Jennifer Corso January 25, 2013 at 08:06 PM
As a family of 5 that have used the pool for years and hope to continue to do so the idea of a refurbished and or enhanced pool complex is exciting. I do however agree completely with Mr. Humphrey. Why shouldn't we use the recources we currently have (zoning, parking authority) to determine if we even have the space and accomidations required to move forward on this project without any financial expenditure. We can spend 12k to have a study done, but if the current parking situation, access etc. will not accomodate then it is all for not. Anyone who has been to Mills during football, soccer season on a Saturday or Sunday knows parking is at a premium. Given the current layout if we were to add a swim meet to the mix I believe a dangerous situation would be created (emergency vehicle access) etc. I hope that this project moves forward and think it is an exciting opportunity for the town and its residents to revitalize a recource that has long been neglected.
Betty January 25, 2013 at 08:43 PM
FYI, Westminster School in Simsbury offers a monthly pool membership. http://www.swimcenter.net/ It would be great to have many wonderful things in Canton, however I can't help but wonder how we will pay for them, and at what cost.
Rob Miller January 25, 2013 at 09:03 PM
For those of you who have expressed concerns about money, I would like to reiterate that the whole point of this project/initiative is to SAVE the town money, and quite likely return funds back to the general fund. By doing so we make the pool inherently more sustainable financially and expand services for our residents at the same time. As far as initial costs are concerned, what would otherwise be capital costs can be leased as equipment over time (which has already been accounted for in the budget estimates). This reduces the overall initial capital expenses to a potentially very reasonable number (so much so in fact that it may not require bonding at all). A feasibility study will either validate or challenge these assumptions, so while we may all have our opinions about what's reasonable to expect; I think an independent analysis is a responsible path forward.
wendy January 25, 2013 at 09:46 PM
So if it won't need to be bonded and included in the bonding package....why the urgency, big push for it to be done so quickly?
Frank Culkin January 25, 2013 at 10:51 PM
Mr. Humphrey- We did not have time to review the line level budget during the Selectmen's meeting. However, if you look at the competitive pool rental revenues proposed you will notice that they are one of the smallest revenue line items proposed. The revenues for the first two years are $9k per year reflecting 4.5 days of rental per year and $18k for years three thru five for 9 days of rental per year. This revenue stream only represents 2% of the proposed year over year revenue and can be taken out, if it is deemed that parking is an issue. If taken out, we would still turn a small revenue in year two and eradicate our annual loss of $60k year over year while also generating more services to the community and employment opportunities. As a swim parent to a USA swimmer, we are accustomed to walking very far distances due to poor parking options at any of the outside meets. It is not unrealistic to assume the use of the high school and middle school parking facilities, but it is a line item we could eliminate from the budget and still have a break even budget in two years time. Regards, Frank Culkin
Wyatt January 25, 2013 at 10:53 PM
So is your suggestion that if people want to live in a nice town, they should move to Simsbury? Because Canton is too poor to have nice things?
Wyatt January 25, 2013 at 10:53 PM
@Wendy. Why not now?
wendy January 25, 2013 at 11:04 PM
@Wyatt...thanks for answering my question with a question....
MRW January 25, 2013 at 11:16 PM
There is great profit potential in a year-round pool facility that does not necessarily have to include swim meets and overcrowding. Many area swim teams are short of pool space and would pay rental fees for practice time, most likely very early before school, in the late evenings, or early weekend winter mornings when the lot is empty. Hosting a swim meet is a venture that can be addressed, but is not the sole source of revenue. Water aerobics for seniors, swim lessons for all, water safety classes, rehab and water therapy, as well as pool party rentals etc etc can all be held at times that will not conflict with spring and fall sports events. There can be daily, monthly, or annual usage/membership fees that can bring in additional fees from neighboring towns as well. Canton residents will surely pay less than visitors. And it will bring more visitors to our other local businesses. It is certainly worth the cost of the study to pursue what is possible.
Andrew Ziemba January 25, 2013 at 11:34 PM
I think some of us believe theft is immoral, and so we oppose taxation but especially increased taxation. That percent is rather small however, as many believe it is OK to steal if someone else does it for you. I bet a lot of people would be all for it if someone wanted to buy the mills pond pool, privatize it, and turn it into a year round facility. That at least would be logical. I could support that. Of course any moral person would support that. We can't all live on bloated quasi government salaries and pensions. Why is it that whenever someone wants something, they feel that it should be provided by government and funded through direct taxation? That is the scariest part of this conversation.
Betty January 26, 2013 at 07:00 PM
Wyatt, No, my suggestion is if you need a pool today, in the middle of winter, there is one in Simsbury that could be paid for on a monthly basis. There is no need to commit for a yearly membership fee, and it is closer than Granby. Sorry I was not clear. Wyatt, How do you get "Because Canton is too poor to have nice things?" out of what I said? The road to your home must not need to be repaired.
Tom Sevigny January 27, 2013 at 01:54 PM
I would like to echo Mr. Litton's comments. For far too long our town has been reactive instead of proactive when it comes to these type of opportunities. We have the chance to upgrade an existing town facility that would benefit citizens of all ages while simultaneously saving to town money. Why wouldn't we want to explore this further? We conduct these type of studies all the time. The $400,000 recently allocated for pool upgrades was the result of a study conducted by an independent consultant. We have also done a pre-feasibility study on the hydro project and will soon be conducting a more extensive study in the near future. We conduct these studies so we can make decisions based on knowledge, not on gut feelings or the fear of the unknown. Finally, while this conversational thread has helped people educate themselves and ask questions, I must take umbrage with the personal attacks in a few posts. Civic participation is a must for a healthy community. We may disagree with each other but to disparage the civic participation of others accomplishes nothing. Mr. Culkin, Mr. Miller, and Mr. Jackson have spent numerous hours as members of their respective committees in an attempt to improve our community. For that they deserve our thanks.
Wyatt January 28, 2013 at 02:23 PM
@Wendy. Just wanted to demonstrate how inane your question was...
John Fitts (Editor) January 28, 2013 at 02:31 PM
Hi folks. So far I have decided to leave all of these comments but there are some that do come close to violating our terms of service. Please keep discussion to the issue at hand and be respectful of other opinions. Thank you.
Betty January 28, 2013 at 03:47 PM
I think a year round pool would serve many more people in Canton than some other projects discussed and/or approved.
wendy January 28, 2013 at 07:07 PM
Well wyatt, since my question wasn't directed at you, but asking Rob Miller why the urgency, since he was the one stating that it may not need to be bonded.....I don't think you are qualified to answer the question or make judgements. But as always there is someone who feels that the only way to get their way is to put down others.
Rob Miller January 29, 2013 at 03:26 AM
Hello Wendy, I think there are several reasons to consider this proposal now. FIrst, there will be a great deal of work done on the pool as a result of the $400,000 that was approved last month. If the town decided to move in this direction, there will likely be synergies, and perhaps even cost savings, to consider i.e. where to put anchors/footings for the seasonal structure in the decking as it is being replace. Second, whether it will be necessary or appropriate to bond for up front capital expenditures still needs to be determined. If it does require bonding, now is an ideal time to consider it given the current level of interest rates. In either case, I believe we're talking dramatically lower amounts than what the town is considering for any other bonding projects. Hopefully this helps address your question. Thanks, Rob
Donna Carney January 30, 2013 at 03:04 PM
I have used this pool and my grandchildren use it i am not in favor of making it year round right now maybe down the road. I know first hand people have signed this so called petition at a basketball game and really didn't know what they were signing i can name a few so it's a piece of paper. Also you have a lot of older people in canton many on fixed incomed many use the pool for little to nothing because it is right they too live here. I can't see where you are going to get the funds to pay for the staffing and to put it up we need our schools fixed, we need roads, we need more important things before a year round pool. we need to repair it and keep it going and look at this in 3 to 5 years and see where we are as a town. I think it would be wonderful if Mr, Jackson want to have a few of his friends donate the money to have this done we would gladly accept such a gift to the town.....But now is not the time for this
Gretchen Wierdsma February 02, 2013 at 12:05 AM
I believe the urgency is in the fact that this beautiful pool in a gorgeous park, in a neighborly town has been in disrepair for many years. Money has finally been set aside to repair it and we have found an amazing and cost effective way to make it a year round pool. It does not make sense to pay for something twice if it can be done once. I am not a resident of canton but love the town, the people and working with and for these Canton folks. Canton has a very unique setting in the fact that the community ctr, high school and pool/park are in such close proximity and all connected by sidewalks! So cool! With a new improved four season pool it will be like a college campus. Walk or ride to tennis, track, yoga, pool, picnic etc. As far as taxes, in theory I agree with Andrew however until someone is willing to turn this into a private operation, it is more of a team effort to accomplish something awesome. I am an aquatic professional and have turned a money losing aquatic operation into a profitable department. Not easy, but like any business potential, it is possible. This was done without holding any enormous USA meets. Staff would be supported by the program & pool usage fees. As a non resident, swim coach and someone who headed up a committee to try to get the YMCA to reconsider coming to New Hartford, I can assure all that the need and desire for a year round pool to serve not only Canton, but surrounding towns is real. Surrounding towns can't help yet.
Glenn Arnold February 13, 2013 at 07:26 PM
It's interesting how some people hide behind aliases in order to share their opinion. It's great to see proven leaders step up and willing to share their opinion without hiding behind technology.

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