The Board of Finance deferred a decision on transferring $400,000 from the town’s reserves for improvements at Mills Pond Pool, saying they would like to see more specifics.
Last week the Board of Selectmen voted to transfer the money from the town’s undesignated fund balance, currently estimated at $4.9 million, to pay for improvements at the facility. Selectman Lowell Humphrey voted against the proposal and Steve Roberto abstained, having missed some of the conversation.
First Selectman Richard Barlow said his idea was that the funds, potentially combined with a potential state grant next year, would pay for several items with the idea to get several more years of life out of the facility until the town was ready to move forward with more permanent plans. Some of the potential items, and estimates given in a recent pool study, were: new pool decking and drainage repair ($129,470), repair of the pool shell ($23,540), remove paint and replaster the shell ($156,541) and bring mechanical systems above ground ($47,080 for new systems, $160,072 for building addition to house them).
Parks and Recreation Director Brian Wilson said some of the improvements could carry over to a new facility.
Monday he said it was also buying time for a facility that during the summer gets 300 to 500 users a day.
“You’re easily putting 10 plus years of life back into the pool,” he said.
Monday a handful of residents spoke to the finance board and urged them to consider putting their stamp of approval on the idea.
"It’s not throwing good money after bad; it’s keeping a good facility the town has grown to know and love over the years, in operation,” said Chris Eckert, who is also a parks and recreation commission member.
Rob Miller, who in early August started a push to have pool funding added to projects voters will consider for bonding at the November election, urged support for the $400,000 but called it a first step, still advocating for replacement.
“It does need to be reconstructed and we also believe it is time to do that,” Miller said.
While Barlow last week advocated setting up a committee of Parks and Recreation Commission members along with some from the Permanent Municipal Building Committee to fine tune the idea, some finance board member said they wanted to see more detail first.
“I’m still wondering — what’s the plan?” finance board chairman Richard Ohanesian asked. “What it looks like we’re doing is throwing money at it.”
Finance board member Ike Eickenhorst said it looked like the selectmen were responding to recent pressure and asked why the pool hadn’t been more seriously considered for bonding.
“It seemed to be off the radar until a group that uses it strongly came forward,” he said.
He also questioned whether selectmen had done due diligence.
Chief Administrative Officer Robert Skinner said he didn’t agree with all those assertions. The town had a $37,000 architectural study completed and received the results after a committee that looked at projects to recommend for bonding had finished its work.
Selectmen also received a report from the architect during a meeting earlier this year.
“I don’t think it’s fair to stay they were unaware of it,” Skinner said.
Selectmen Steve Roberto pointed out that earlier this summer the Board of Selectmen discussed seeking the grant for the pool next year and said they were waiting to see what the year brought. With the selectmen’s budget, bolstered by Federal Emergency management Association reimbursements, came in with a nearly $500,000 surplus, it became clear some could be spent on the pool, Roberto said.
Skinner also said the idea was to move soon and start the bidding process in hopes of getting some of the improvements ready for Spring.
At an earlier Parks and Recreation Commission meeting Wilson said the deck and the shell work were two items that could potentially be done before next season.
Ohanesian said he wasn’t looking to delay long but wanted to see if TLB Architecture, which conducted the study, could come to its next meeting and provide more specifics and speak to the repairs and any potential surprises. He, for example, asked if the pool shell, could further crumble when the many layers of paint were removed.
Finance board member Brian First said he supported taking action but wanted to make sure it was the correct one.
“I think it’s a huge asset to the community,” he said. “There’s obviously a ton of support for this amenity in town. I want to know what we’re going to get.”