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Vol. LXIV, No. 33
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
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Pool Decision Tabled Yet Again

Ellen Gilbert

After more than four hours of deliberating with Borough Council and audience members about the virtues of the most recent iteration of the Community Park Pool design proposal, Township Committee voted to table passage of an ordinance that would have authorized an appropriation of $4,087,000 and the issuance of $3,882,650 bonds or notes to support the project. Sue Nemeth’s was the only dissenting vote. Borough Council had tabled the plan earlier this month.

After Township Committee’s vote, it was suggested that Borough Council remove the corresponding agenda item from their own meeting next week.

It was agreed that an ad hoc committee, consisting of a member from each governing body, be created to work with the Recreation Board to fine-tune pool plans in response to reservations described at the Monday evening meeting. Members of both governing bodies and speakers from the audience expressed particular concern about the $6.1 million anticipated cost of the pool during an economic downturn, especially in light of the apparently unwieldy additional tax burdens being borne by local residents as a result of the recent revaluation process. The feasibility of a proposed stainless steel pool that would be dropped into the existing pool was also questioned.

“What I heard tonight scares me,” said Township resident and former Board of Education President Alan Hegedus. His professional background in metallurgy, he said, made him concerned about potentially corrosive combinations of chlorine, bromine, and iodine in “a welded environment.” The promised one-year warranty on such a pool, he added, is “not worth a damn.”

The economic downturn was also used as an argument for proceeding with the project. “The time is right,” said Borough Council member Andrew Koontz. “We were flabbergasted at the responses to the requests for proposals for recent projects like the Harrison Street park and work on Mercer Street.”

“Now’s a really great time to go out for bidding,” added Township Engineer Bob Kiser. “Don’t wait too long,” he counseled.

The fact that, at this point, it would only be possible to recreate the wading pool in time for next year appeared to be significant in the decision to once again delay action on pool funding. Since the “rest of the construction would wait until the following season, what do we lose if we hold off on everything and continue to look at the design?” asked Township Mayor Bernie Miller.

“I need a timeline,” observed Township Committee member Lance Liverman after the decision was made to table the ordinance. “This can’t drag out year after year after year. It wouldn’t be fair to anyone. The bottom line is, if we don’t do something positive, we’re going to be in trouble.” Borough Mayor Mildred Trotman echoed Mr. Liverman by asking for “guidelines.”

Earlier in the meeting Recreation Department Executive Director Jack Roberts presented a detailed overview of the history of the pool renovation project, noting the revisions that occurred as a result of public input about sustainability, simplicity of design, and user friendliness. Mr. Roberts also described the department’s interest in “offering additional opportunities to families who have different levels of swimming ability”; upgrading the diving well to appeal to teen-agers interested in water polo and other activities; and the overall efficiencies that would be achieved by bringing in updated, separate filtration systems and other state-of-the-art equipment. While acknowledging that changing room plans were less “open air” than the existing structures, Mr. Roberts noted the fact that less than ten percent of the pool’s current visitors actually use the locker rooms.

Showing side-by-side images of the proposed and current pool complex, Mr. Roberts pointed out the need for additional offices to house personnel from the aquatics, day camp, teen travel camp, and competitive swim programs; to re-situate the first aid room next to the ticket office; and the benefits of having an area for doing on-site maintenance work, like refinishing picnic tables.

Putting a stainless steel pool into the existing pool “would save a substantial amount of money,” observed Mr. Roberts. “We looked at it carefully. It’s an attractive way to improve a pool without having to do extensive renovations, and it allows for work to be done all year round.”

Several speakers commended the Recreation Department for its “graciousness” and responsiveness to public concerns, but local resident and architect Ron Berlin described the “tin ear” of the consultants associated with the project. Earlier in the evening Mr. Berlin gave Township Committee members a copy of a letter that described an alternative design.

“We’re not putting up a country club,” countered Anne Robotti, a mother of five who lives at 48 Dorann Avenue. “By my calculations, it costs $1 an hour for us to use the pool. It’s well-run and beautifully maintained, but it has to be replaced. It would be fiscally irresponsible to slap on a band aid.” With respect to the question of whether or not there should be a year-round meeting room available, Ms. Robotti suggested that she could fill such a room “with girl scouts every night.”

Before the vote was taken, it did indeed seem at times as if action enabling pool plans to go ahead would be taken. “I hope that the public feels confident now that this is not an amusement park,” said Township Committee member Sue Nemeth after Mr. Roberts’s presentation. “We have to repair the roads, we have to repair the sewers; they deteriorate. This is one of those projects.”

“This is a very exciting moment,” said Mr. Koontz at the beginning of the meeting. “We’re really on the cusp of doing something for the community.” As it turned out, “doing something” was postponed yet again.

Following the joint meeting, Township Committee held its regularly scheduled meeting at which it approved a resolution to impose a straight eight percent interest rate on overdue tax bills. Previously, the rate was eight percent on the first $1,500 overdue, and 18 percent on any amount above that.

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