BARRE — A new-look City Council got its first peek at conceptual plans to refurbish the city’s 70-year-old swimming pool this week and didn’t blink at a projected price tag that far exceeds what voters approved last year.
On a night when councilors welcomed newly elected members John Steinman and Teddy Waszazak aboard, a consultant who has worked behind the scenes for months provided a glimpse of what the aging pool complex could look like, as well as some sense of what those improvements will cost.
The city has a pending grant application for up to $350,000 in federal funding that would augment the $720,000 bond approved by voters last March. But councilors aren’t yet sweating the cost of the pool upgrade, which preliminary estimates indicate could easily exceed $1.1 million.
Neither is City Manager Steve Mackenzie, though he floated the very real possibility the “splash pad” that was pitched to voters as an out-of-pool amenity in the run-up to last year’s bond vote might need to be downsized or deferred.
“We have a budget challenge, there’s no doubt about it,” Mackenzie said, suggesting when the project is put out to bid this summer, the splash pad, which would create a new water element when the pool is closed, as well as repairs to the bathhouse roof be bid as alternates.
Mackenzie said the “core project” is refurbishing and reconfiguring the cracked concrete pool that was installed in 1949 and was losing an estimated 14,000 gallons of water a day last year.
According to preliminary estimates provided by consultant John Hickok, that work would include construction of a “beach entry” addition to the pool and could cost roughly $835,000.
The city has already secured a $24,000 grant, and Mackenzie is optimistic about its chances of receiving some, if not all, of the $350,000 it has requested from the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
“I have a reasonably high degree of confidence we can afford to do the base project,” he told councilors, while advocating for an a la carte approach with respect to the splash pad and bathhouse repairs.
Depending on the bid results and grant award, Mackenzie said it could be possible to install the splash pad and some initial features and add others in the future. At a minimum, he said, Hickok should include the extra amenity in the more detailed design work he’ll complete before the project is put out to bid in August.
“It makes sense to design it now,” Mackenzie said, noting that at worst, the city would have plans prepared for bid if another funding source was identified in the future.
Councilors aren’t yet writing off the splash pad that Michael Boutin has long lobbied for, but all agreed to treat that $200,000 component as an extra that might not fully materialize.
Members agreed refurbishing the pool is a must, as is replacing its subsurface mechanical room and all of the expensive equipment in it. The pumps and the filters are as old as the pool, and structural concerns flagged years ago by the city’s insurer have made bringing the mechanical room above ground a priority.
Those concerns have annually threatened the city’s ability to open the pool, something Mackenzie hopes to do for one last summer this year.
Hickok said that won’t interfere with construction that is tentatively slated to start in September, but will require yet another sign-off from the city’s insurer.
“If the pool is capable of opening this summer, it can,” he said.
Assuming there hasn’t been any additional structural deterioration, Mackenzie predicted that won’t be a problem.
Based on Hickok’s construction schedule, work on the pool will start in September, resume next spring and should be finished by late June of next year. That schedule coincides with the start of the pool season.
Councilors also agreed it’s mandatory to create a “beach level” entry to the pool to make it accessible to the city’s oldest and youngest residents and those with disabilities. It will cost an extra $110,000, according to Hickok’s preliminary estimates.
The zero-depth entry would be constructed as a narrow wing leading into the rectangular pool, which is three to 10 feet deep. Tentative plans include installing a climbing wall at the deep end of the pool and possibly replacing the slide.