Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 13
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
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Rec Department Laments Negative Decision on $7 Million Pool Request

Ellen Gilbert

Executive Director Jack Roberts might have been paraphrasing Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke last week (“what we’ve got here is a failure to communicate”) as he described relations between the joint Recreation Department and the Princetons. Responding to the recent decision by the Finance Committees of both the Borough and the Township not to recommend Recreation Department capital requests of $7 million for pool improvements and $760,000 for synthetic turf additions to playing fields in this year’s budget, Mr. Roberts noted that there were “no conversations before the decisions were made.”

The irony, that the $760,000 is an already-approved County grant that will not come out of municipal coffers, was not lost on members of the joint Recreation Board as they met last week. “The County has given us the money; it just needs to be processed,” said Mr. Roberts, describing the two Finance Committees as “insulated.”

While he said that he understood the negative vote on the $7 million pool request, particularly in light of the current economic climate, he pointed out that this was the fifth year that the pool has appeared in capital budget requests, but there has “yet to be a discussion” about it.

As was reported and describeded in several public meetings during the last year, the 41-year-old community pool has outlived its life expectancy by 15 years and is in serious need of a major overhaul. With the threat of a mid-season closing due to a major breakdown looming, Borough Council member Andrew Koontz expressed his willingness to tell the Council that “We’re going to have bite the bullet. We can’t put this off indefinitely; it probably would have been wiser to tackle this problem years ago.” Township Committee member Sue Nemeth concurred, observing that “members of the Township Committee are aware of the problem, but could stand a briefing.”

It was agreed at Thursday’s meeting that the Department should proceed with its plans to launch a foundation, although Mr. Roberts expressed concern about the potential impact of such a move. “We want the governing bodies to guarantee that the budget won’t be cut if money is raised,” he commented. Mr. Koontz suggested emphasizing the fact that money raised by the foundation would be used to support capital improvements, not operating costs. Mr. Roberts agreed, and said that he hoped that the presence of a foundation covering at least some of the costs of projects like the pool renovation would encourage the municipalities to make their own two-year commitment for capital improvements. Mr. Koontz observed that such a combination of foundation and municipal money had successfully resulted in the new library building. In the meantime, the Department has agreed to the five percent budget cut requested by the Township and the Borough for the coming year.

It was noted that the public’s apparent desire for a less elaborate pool complex than those that have been proposed could mean a less costly project. Several board members also pointed out that the best bids could be obtained right now, as contractors try to keep up during a particularly dry spell.

Ms. Nemeth received kudos at the meeting for her suggestion that a TV 30 filming of a “walking tour of the pool,” complete with commentary, could make the poor condition of the pool more widely known to members of the Township and Borough governments, as well as the community-at-large.

In other discussions at Thursday’s meeting it was announced that the department’s spring/summer activities brochure would be in the mail on or about April 1. Registration for summer camps, pool, and tennis programs is underway, and staff positions have already been filled, with 38 out of 40 staff members from last year returning this summer.

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