Over the past several weeks there has been much discussion about the future of the Mills Pond Pool on the pages of the Patch and among friends and neighbors throughout the town. I would like to take this opportunity to add my voice to this discussion by explaining my reasons for supporting the expenditure of existing capital improvement money to fund an independent study that would determine the feasibility of converting the pool to a year-round facility.
First, let me present two facts: 1. The Mills Pond Pool is unable to financially sustain its operations and preventative repairs. Pool operations are a $50,000 to $60,000 loss for the town every year. A recent study also confirmed what we have known for years — the pool is in a state of disrepair and needs major renovations that exceed $700,000 in the short and medium term. 2. Mills Pond Pool will never be able to financially sustain itself if it only continues to operate ten weeks per year. Presented with these facts the question is this: Is there a better way to operate Mills Pond Pool that will make financial sense for the town?
I may have expertise in a lot of areas but one of them is not pools. When I lack knowledge on a specific subject I look to experts who can educate me on the issue. The expert on pools is USA Swimming. They are the national governing body for the sport of swimming. Alarmed by the growing number of communities across the country that have been forced, due to financial reasons, to permanently close their pools, USA Swimming developed a program that helps towns develop a successful formula for their aquatic facilities. Based on the information obtained from USA Swimming by Canton Parks and Recreation Director Brian Wilson and further research by Parks and Recreation Commission member Frank Culkin, it is obvious that we have an opportunity to upgrade an existing town facility that would benefit citizens of all ages throughout the year while saving our town money. Furthermore, we would be creating a town facility that would be an economic development engine for years to come. People from out of town who would utilize a year-round aquatic center in Canton would also eat and shop in town, thus providing more customers for our local merchants. Why wouldn’t we want to explore this further?
For far to long our town has been reactive instead of proactive when it comes to these type of economic and financial opportunities. Economic development does not happen by sitting back and waiting for things to happen. It takes nurturing by local officials who understand the importance of long term planning. Based on the recommendations of the study cited above, the Board of Selectmen recently approved the expense of $400,000 for much needed renovations to Mills Pond Pool. While these repairs will be completed whether or not the pool is turned into a year-round facility, does it make sense in the long term to continue to throw this much money at a facility that annually bleeds $50,000 to $60,000? If the status quo for the pool continues, the $400,000 will be gone in six to eight years; as which time we will have to spend even more money for further repairs and renovations. In other words, the downward, unsustainable financial cycle will continue with no end in site.
It is time for us to be bold. Let’s conduct a feasibility study to determine the validity of the information and research that has already been done. Canton conducts these type of studies all the time so that we can make decisions based on knowledge, not on gut feelings or fear of the unknown. I urge you to attend the Special Town Meeting on Feb. 19 and votes yes for Canton’s future.