WALLINGFORD — Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. deemed renovating Community Pool into a multi-use park too expensive in the time of COVID-19, and it’s going to be up to him to revive the plan, whenever that might be.
The Recreation Commission pool subcommittee met Tuesday to talk about what may happen with the plan Dickinson vetoed funding for in May and what the 2021 pool season might look like, if there is one.
The pool was closed this summer, but not due to its condition or concerns about COVID-19.
The pool was expected to be closed for construction to renovate the property in a design featuring a scaled-down pool — the current pool is 43,000 square feet and uses about 1 million gallons of water — splash pad, new bathhouse and repaved parking lot, among other optional amenities like a picnic area and sand volleyball.
In May, however, Dickinson vetoed a council-approved ordinance amendment that would have appropriated $7.4 million to fund the project. The council voted 5 to 4 to uphold the veto.
Dickinson said in May that his reasons for vetoing pool project funding lay with the economic uncertainty and the financial hardships on residents and businesses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The contractor’s bid has expired, but the firm has offered to extend it, however not in perpetuity, said Michael P. Fortuna, principal at TLBA Architecture.
On April 9, Dickinson came out against funding the project due to higher than projected costs and then added his concerns about COVID-19 in a letter issued a week before the veto.
To bring back the pool for next summer, Parks and Recreation Director Kenny Michaels said he would need to conduct a walk-through next month with the chemical provider to assess the condition of the pool’s mechanical system, which has sat unused for a year, to determine if it can be restarted in the spring.
Next, he would need to include funding in his budget request for 2021-2022. Because the pool was slated to be closed, none of the regular pool funding was included in the 2020-2021 budget.
Dickinson then would need to preserve those line items in his version of the proposed budget. The mayor’s budget historically has been issued April 1 for the next fiscal year.
Michaels plans to meet next month with Dickinson and Recreation Commission member Michael Savenelli Sr., who's the pool subcommittee chairman.
Town Councilor Chris Shortell, the council liaison to the pool committee, said Tuesday that next year’s budget will frame the discussion about reopening Community Pool in its current state.
Last month, the Town Council toured Community Pool with Parks and Recreation department officials and Recreation Commission members.
Shortell said the council has not discussed the pool during a council meeting since the tour, which was Aug. 12, but council members have spoken to each other privately about the issue.
Michaels said Parks and Recreation offered the tour hoping to get people into the pool to see what really needs to be done, and he’s still looking for council feedback.
Town Councilor Christina Tatta, who has been critical of the renovation cost, attended Tuesday’s meeting.
She suggested putting out an RFP for a maintenance renovation, saying she wants to be able to compare what the cost would be to renovate the pool by keeping its current size and updating the existing bathhouse with the proposed plan to reduce the pool size, build a new bathhouse and add other amenities.
“I don’t know how I could ever vote for the new project unless I knew what I was comparing it to,” she said.
Savenelli said the original reason to renovate Community Pool into a aquatics facility was to draw more users and have the pool pay for itself through pool tag sales, which reached 2,721 in 2019.
Community Pool last received a significant renovation in 1999 at a cost of about $2 million. Today, that renovation work would cost about $4 million, Fortuna said.