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The $7 million OpenAire structure with a congeneration unit is the choice of the Cheshire Town Council.
Even though Tuesday's vote was to only call for a public hearing for a new enclosure for the community pool, which will be held in two weeks, the discussion focused on why Councilors felt the OpenAire structure was the best option available, with one Councilor expressing concern over the motion.
The proposal from GF Rhode and OpenAire is expected to cost $6.7 million, and the Council wants to utilize a congeneration unit which would cost an extra $300,000 to install. The congen unit itself would not be owned by the Town and the $300,000 is the cost of piping and materials to retrofit it with the current mechanicals. According to the Public Building Commission, the congeneration unit would save the Town $50,000 in energy annual, and will have paid for itself in less than six years.
"This project has been a long time coming. There have been many meetings over many hours and I think this is the best alternative enclosure to the bubble," said Councilor James Sima. "It will provide a better environment, will greatly reduce the budget and, overall, will attract more people to the pool. Instead of being something everyone mocks, it will be something people will take pride in."
Sima further added that, "over and over," the bubble has proven "to be a failure" for the Town. The time is now, Sima said, to fix the problems, as contractors and builders are hungry for work and the Town could get the best price. Also, a summer referendum vote would allow for the pool to remain open this year with work beginning in the fall and reopening in the summer of 2011. If the Town waited until November to hold the referendum, the pool wouldn't be ready until the winter of 2011, Sima stated.
Councilor Justin Adinolfi, who did not support the motion, said his vote was not against the pool enclosure. He also felt that, of the two proposals considered by the Council, the OpenAire structure would be the right choice. However, he stated that, at a cost of $7 million, now was not the right time for the Town to move forward with such a costly project. Adinolfi was also fearful that voters would reject the new enclosure because of its hefty price tag and the pool would be forced to become a summer-only facility. He suggested this November holding an informational referendum, which would ask the public if they wanted a $7 million permanent enclosure, a new bubble, or a summer-only facility.
"I don't think this is the right way to proceed, given the facts that are apparent to me," commented Adinolfi. "I'm totally in favor of a year-round pool and I am not against public input, but I worry if the referendum fails because of the price tag, that we'll wind up with a summer-only pool."
According to data compiled by the Finance Department, the OpenAire structure with the congeneration unit would cost the average taxpayer an additional $44 annually. However, the PBC calculated the costs to be lower, approximately $15 annually per person, because of increased revenues and decreased energy expenses with the new structure.
Councilor David Schrumm said that, if nothing else, this process has shown that "bubbles don't work well in New England over pools."
"It's out of character for me to want to spend $7 million, but we need to fix what we got," Schrumm stated. "The PBC did a great job and we've never had a building that's been this vetted. This building would serve us for 40 years, so let's do it right. It became clear that OpenAire is the best for both the short and long term."
Fellow Republican Councilor Tom Ruocco is still undecided on the project and wanted to hear more from the public. Councilor Tim White, who said he didn't know which way he'd vote this summer on his ballot, praised the work of the PBC, who calculated 40-year life-cycle costs for the structures. According to the PBC, the bubble would cost $36 million, while the OpenAire structure would cost $22 million. For all future projects, White hoped the Town would continue to look at lowest life-cycle costs, instead of focusing on lowest initial costs.
Sima said that there have also been problems at the pool, including poor indoor air quality, heating system malfunctions and, most recently, a minor collapse when snow built up on one of the corners.
He said the OpenAire option would last the Town 30 to 40 years and was a way to make the facility better.
"I know $7 million is high, but where else do we go?" Sima asked. "I think this is the best alternative. It's not the cheapest, but it's the best."
The Town Council will hold a public hearing on the $7 million OpenAire structure on Tuesday, May 25. If the process continues as expected, a special referendum would be held on June 22 to let voters decide on the new structure.