Repair launches new idea for pool
Official suggests moving facility
For years, Belmont officials have warned that the historic Underwood Pool — much beloved but not well funded — has been slowly falling apart, patched up from time to time but never overhauled.
On Monday, a broken valve forced the pool’s closure and gave new urgency to an ambitious idea: to rebuild the 100-year-old swimming hole just up the hill from where it sits on Concord Avenue.
“What happened this week clearly showed that we’ve probably done enough stop-gap measures,” said Selectman Andy Rojas. “It’s time to really take the bull by the horns and do a new pool.”
The pool reopened on Thursday, and will finish its season next Sunday.
Peter Castanino, director of the town’s Department of Public Works, said that as long as no other equipment fails, the pool will open again next summer.
But it has been a rocky season for Underwood.
On the pool’s opening day, the Board of Health deemed the diving board unsafe and ordered it removed. The water level beneath the board, according to the director of the department, was too low.
The diving board was not Underwood’s only problem: It sits below the water table, which allows groundwater to seep in and out and cause the water level to fluctuate.
Bacteria levels have been a problem, and the surface of the pool floor is peeling. The bathhouse does not meet handicapped-access standards.
“For me, it’s not a new urgency, because I’ve been saying this for a long time,” said Castanino, referring to the need to build a new pool.
Castanino is the brains behind a concept, still in the very early stages of consideration, that would grapple with the Underwood Pool in conjunction with several other facility issues facing the town.
The Belmont Public Library, which is right next to the pool, is slated to move across Concord Avenue to what is currently a playing field, which would leave the high school without a field for sports.
In Castanino’s vision, the town could build the field where the pool now sits, and rebuild the pool just up the hill, where there is a playground.
Next month, the Board of Selectmen is expected to review a request for proposals that Castanino is working on for a landscape architect to survey the site.
Town officials estimate that the survey will cost about $30,000.
There is no estimate yet for how much the entire project could cost, according to selectmen, and it is still possible that other options could emerge. There is also no plan for how to fund it.
But, said Castanino, recent changes to the Community Preservation Act program have opened up a new range of funding possibilities.
The CPA program allows cities and towns to assess a property-tax surcharge of up to 3 percent to pay for open space, recreation, affordable housing, and historical preservation projects, with the money raised locally supplemented by state matching funds.
The state budget for this fiscal year, which started July 1, includes an overhaul of the program that allows Community Preservation Act funds to be used for a wider variety of projects.
Before July 1, the funds could not be used to rehabilitate recreational assets that were not originally acquired or created with Community Preservation Act money.
Now, however, existing recreational facilities, like the Underwood Pool, are eligible for CPA funding, which in Belmont is overseen by a local committee and approved by Town Meeting.
It was a key change, according to Castanino. So many capital projects vie for attention from the town that the pool, which is used only two months a year, never rose to the top of the list, he said.
“If there’s CPA money that might be used for this as a worthy project, it suddenly changes the funding scenario and maybe makes the project a possibility,” said Castanino.
The changes to the law “make it possible when it didn’t seem possible before,” he said.
The project still has many steps to take before Belmont is ready to discuss funding. Rojas said that Community Preservation Act funds will certainly be a component, though he said they would not cover the entire project.
As winter sets in, the town will hunker down to work on plans for next year.
“The design and construction of a new pool, as long as this pool was working, never reached the highest priority,” said Rojas.
“Everybody knew this day would come, but it looks like it might be here.”
Evan Allen can be reached at email@example.com.