Town pool discussion revisited

Thu, 11/14/2019 - 5:30pm

The possibility of building and maintaining a public pool on Block Island is surfacing once again, but the vexing challenges of not only paying for it but maintaining it remain.

The members of the town’s Recreation Board have been discussing the topic during some of their most recent meetings recognizing that various polls and surveys conducted in recent years have always put a public pool as a top priority.

Recreation Department Director Dave Sniffen said he recently “broached the subject with the town manager, but he said he’s leaving,” Sniffen said of outgoing Manager Ed Roberge.

Recreation Board Chair Chris Willi said that “if this is going to happen in 10 years, then it’s going to have to be privately funded.” He said the town has a number of expensive projects on its 10-year to-do list, including renovating the Fire Barn and the Block Island School gymnasium. “If it comes to fruition we’re going to need a sponsor,” said Willi.

“It’s going to come down to not only how we can do it, but whether we can sustain it,” said Sniffen. Sniffen and Willi cited figures, now years old, that running the pool could cost up to $500,000 a year, including staffing and maintenance. There was the question of whether, as a town-operated facility, there would need to be a lifeguard on duty when the pool was open.

“I don’t know what the legality is of not having a lifeguard,” said Sniffen.

Willi said that the Town Council, of which he is a member, would have to get behind such a project.

“How will you be convinced?” asked board member Colleen Ernst.

“Private funding to build it,” he responded.

There was some talk of discussing the pool with the YMCA, but that seemed unlikely, and whether, if the pool was part of the school, there could be some federal funding available.

The predominant question was about sustainability.

“Can we afford it?” asked member Annie Hall.

“You have to have some kind of plan — two phases — choose where it will be located, like the Faulkner Property, and what it will be used for,” said Ernst.

“I think the multi-phase approach is a good one,” said Willi. “This is just my opinion, but if we ask the town for anything, it would be a dedicated property. This is something that has been talked about for years, and it should be pursued, but not with the town funding it.”

The members of the Recreation Board also talked about raising the maximum age of the summertime program Camp Mohegan from 10 to age 12.

Sniffen said the program has increased its enrollment in the last year, but Assistant Recreation Director Cindy Lemon said that the 10 year-olds are “graduating out and they don’t want to. They add so much to the camp.” She said that the older kids could also be potential counselors.

Willi said the age cut-off was arbitrary.

“If you want to do it, I think that’s great,” said Hall.

Sniffen also reminded two members that their terms were up at the end of the year. Willi and member Emily Butcher are seeing their terms expire, and Sniffen said that the two alternates on the board, Shannon Cotter-Marsella and Ernst, need to re-up at the end of each year.

“Are you done?” Sniffen asked Willi.

“I don’t know,” said Willi, laughing. “Am I?”

The Recreation Board will meet next on Tuesday, Dec. 17 at 8:15 a.m.