Monday, February 26, 2024

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Staff urges Burlington’s council to sink $5M-plus into new pool building

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After two months of treading water over the fate of Burlington’s primary destination for swimming, the city’s administrators are encouraging the city’s decision makers to erect a new permanent structure over the Maynard Aquatic Center.

This proposed structure, which would drain more than $5 million from Burlington’s coffers, would replace a now-defunct building that had, until recently, encased this municipal swimming pool near Burlington’s City Park.

Last month, the city council authorized the demolition of the old edifice due to structural degradation that had prompted the facility’s abrupt closure this past November. The city’s leaders agreed to temporarily reopen the site for 2024 as an open-air pool once the demolition work had been complete. In the meantime, they directed city staff members to explore whether the facility should be left uncovered over the long haul, encased in a seasonal “bubble,” or refitted with a permanent structure that, unlike its predecessor, would be built to withstand the corrosive action of chlorine.

The results of the staff’s deep dive into this question were ultimately presented to Burlington’s city council during its latest monthly work session on Monday. That evening, Rachel Kelly, the city’s assistant city manager for administrative services, confirmed that she and her colleagues had found the two, less costly alternatives to be inadequate to the community’s needs.

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“At this point,” she added, “the staff feels comfortable making a recommendation to the council that we move forward with designing a permanent pool structure so we can continue to provide year-round indoor swim opportunities.”

Kelly told the council that the relatively high, year-round demand for this municipal pool argues in favor of a permanent structure for the facility. She noted that, in 2023, the aquatic center logged over 15,000 reservations despite being out of commission throughout the first quarter. The facility also drew about 2,000 participants to its water exercise classes and has served as the home “field” for five local high school swim teams. Meanwhile, Kelly reminded the council of the numerous questions and appeals about the aquatic center that have inundated city officials since the facility’s temporary closure on November 30.

Kelly went on to note that Moseley Architects, which had assessed the previous edifice before its demise, has endorsed a new, one-story superstructure for the facility that’s insulated and climate controlled for both temperature and humidity.  The assistant city manager added that the construction of a new permanent building has since been endorsed by city’s rec and parks commission – which she said has played right into the staff’s own recommendation.

In response to the staff’s proposal, mayor Jim Butler acknowledged that he had considered other potential locations for an enclosed municipal pool before he, too, resolved that the city should simply restore the Maynard Aquatic Center.

“I have thought about this a lot,” Butler admitted. “We have a beautiful facility in North Park…and if we did a rec center on the western side of town, there has been some discussion about whether we put a pool there too…But we’re all creatures of habit and [the Maynard Aquatic Center] is where the pool is.”

Butler nevertheless voiced some qualms over the project’s potential expense, which he confessed will be somewhere in “the millions of dollars.” Meanwhile, Kelly admitted that the project’s price is still up in the air, although she alluded to a 2021 study that put the cost to replace the pool’s previous shell at about $5 million. Butler, for his part, made an ad hoc adjustment to this three-year-old estimate and urged his colleagues to brace themselves for a potential price point of $6 million to $7 million.

Butler ultimately suggested that the council may find it expedient to roll this project into a bond package with some of its other big-ticket recreation endeavors. He went on to ask the city’s parks and rec staff to select some higher priority maintenance items that could also be sprinkled into this package before it’s presented to the local electorate.

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