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The Cheshire Town Council and the subcommittee charged with looking into an alternative to the Community Pool bubble appears to be in favor of a $7 million proposal by OpenAire.
While no formal vote was taken on Tuesday night, comments from members of the Council and the Public Building Commission indicate that the OpenAire structure will be the proposal that is sent to referendum for voter approval on June 22. Next Tuesday, the Council will formally accept one of the proposals for referendum, with a meeting earlier this week meant to be a question and answer session to make sure no stone was left unturned. The OpenAire proposal, a polycarbonate and glass structure with operable ceiling and wall panels, is estimated to cost $6.7 million, but a cogeneration unit that would help reduce costs would add another $300,000 to the final price tag. The other proposal, from KBE Building Corporation, is a traditional building with operable windows and doors to allow for natural ventilation. The cost of that proposal would be approximately $5.5 million.
"I thought it would be a no brainer to go with KBE, but then I went to Orange and saw how bright and open their pool was, even in January," said Councilor James Sima. "I don't want to pick a structure that will be a nuisance to the town. I don't want the pool to be a joke. I want it to be a sense of pride. In my opinion, there is only one option (OpenAire) we can choose."
John Purtill, chairman of the PBC subcommittee that had worked for months analyzing the two structures, said he went into the analysis with an open mind and never along the way did he ask for votes from subcommittee members to see which way people were leaning. However, over time it became clear which structure was superior.
"I, and several others, think the OpenAire structure is what's best for Cheshire. I went from open minded to being sold on OpenAire," Purtill said. "People in Cheshire understand value and this would be a signature structure for the town. I urge you to consider it when you make your decision."
According to Town Manager Michael Milone, who, along with the Finance Department, crunched the numbers on both structures, the OpenAire proposal would add an average of $42 in taxes to residents each year for the next 20 years. The KBE proposal would add $34 annually. The numbers were based on a constant mill rate and assessment, and is related to the amount of principal and interest the Town would be paying for the new structure. However, Kevin Wetmore, a member of the subcommittee, said that there would be added revenue with a new structure. At the very least, the pool wouldn't be closed for four weeks each year to install and take down the bubble. Also, the subcommittee felt there would be energy savings involved as well, thus lowering the overall impact on taxpayers. According to Wetmore, the KBE proposal would cost $16 more each year and OpenAire would cost $15.
Councilor David Schrumm wanted to know if anyone on the subcommittee, which included PBC and Energy Commission members, as well as user members, would be against a congeneration system at the pool. When no hands were raised, Schrumm agreed with their assessment.
"If we're going to do this, let's do cogen and let's do it right," Schrumm said.
Voters will decide on June 22 whether or not to move forward with a new structure for the pool. If it fails, Schrumm doesn’t know what would happen next.
"I don't know what to do if it fails," he said. "I know the rationale for a bubble, but after seven years with it, I don't see that flying again."
Council Chairmain Tim Slocum said you'd "have to put on a straitjacket" if you wanted another bubble after this last experience. He said if the referendum fails, everyone might have to wear one since that might be the only viable option left.
Resident Doug Levens, a user member of the subcommittee and the creator of the Cheshire Community Pool Action Committee, said he was going to "fight for this," to try and get voter support and stated that the the OpenAire structure would be the best for the Town.
"With the KBE structure, as a user, personally, I would find another place to swim in the summer," Levens said.
Councilman Tim White said that, if the plan was to use congeneration at the pool, that number should be added to the referendum number and not paid for through other means, as $300,000 falls below the referendum threshold. He said leaving that out, if it was indeed the plan, made him uncomfortable.
He said that when the pool was first built, it was like the Field of Dreams, "if you build it, they will come," but still believed that a permanent structure was the way to move forward.
"At this time, I'm leaning towards OpenAire with the congeneration," White said.
The Council will meet again on Tuesday, May 11, to formally accept one of the proposals to send to referendum, as well as set a public hearing on the proposal.
The public hearing is expected to take place on May 25.