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In the next few days, residents will know what's in store for the future of the Cheshire Community Pool.
Either a $7 million structure will have been approved by voters in a special referendum, or the new enclosure will have been voted down and the bubble will go back up in the fall. For months, the Town has seemingly been divided on the new pool enclosure proposal from Canadian-based OpenAire. More than a year's worth of work, research, and analysis has taken place to this point, but the final decision rests in the voters’ hands.
Tomorrow, June 22, Cheshire High School will be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. to serve as the polling place for all districts for the special referendum. As of June 15, a total of 139 absentee ballots have already been requested by residents who will be out of town or unable to make it to CHS, with more expected in the days leading up to the vote. According to Town staff, the cost to hold the special referendum in June, rather than waiting until the general November election, is anywhere between $12,000 and $13,000. Those costs include printing ballots, taking out ads, overtime for staff, and mailings to residents. Some members of the Town Council have insisted that, in order for the pool to be open next summer, assuming the referendum passes next week, the vote had to occur in June. If the vote was taken in November, the pool would be closed all of next summer, which is the time of year when the facility generally sees its highest revenues.
Many residents have attended meetings and voiced their opinions both for and against the pool at numerous Town meetings. However, The Cheshire Herald took the streets last week to ask residents going about their daily lives how they felt about the pool. After speaking with many, residents appear to be split on the $7 million referendum.
Charles McDermott said he would not be voting in favor of the new enclosure because of the price tag that goes along with it.
"It's just too much money at this time," said McDermott. "I've used the pool a few times, but it's just a pool."
A woman, who did not wish to give her name, said now that her kids are older, the family doesn't use the facility anymore. She said for years "the pool has been a disaster" and wouldn't be supportive of a new structure, especially at its current expected cost.
Tonya Steskla has already secured an absentee ballot since she will be out of town on Tuesday, and said she was "very much in support" of the pool and the OpenAire structure. She said the facility is more than just a pool, and people who want to vote against it "just don't know how much goes on there."
"It's more than just a pool for the swim teams," Steskla said. "We need a pool in this town."
Operating costs and Capital costs are different, as operational expenses have to be paid each year, while capital expenses generally are bonded, and paid back over a period of time, typically 20 years.
Reported problems with the pool and current bubble are too many to list and a replacement cover has been under consideration for some time. In 2009, the previous Town Council solicited design-build proposals for the pool. These proposals are different than requests for proposal, or RFQs, as the Town asked certain bench marks to be met, rather than having a certain building designed at the least cost. A total of six proposals, all ranging in price, were submitted and the Council trimmed the list down to four. Earlier this year, the list was trimmed again, this time to two, with OpenAire and a more traditional building being the two finalists. The matter was then sent to the Public Building Commission and a special subcommittee, made up of PBC members, Energy Commissioners and pool users, analyzed the two proposals. Ultimately, the Town Council chose the OpenAire structure and scheduled the special referendum for Tuesday.
A woman named ‘Carol’ walking out of Stop & Shop said she would be voting yes for the new structure and her only regret is that this in-depth process wasn't done years ago, when the pool was first being considered. While agreeing with others that $7 million is "a lot of money," she felt constant fixes and issues at the pool "would cost more in the long run."
"I don't use the pool, but many people do," she said. "Hopefully they get it right this time."
Meredith Sturges called the pool "a sinkhole" and didn't feel, in this economic climate, it was the time to approve a $7 million structure. She said it was “too bad that the pool wasn't built right the first time.”
"It's hard to justify that expense right now," she said. "This is not the right time. I'll be voting against it."
Up until recently, Michele Schweighoffer had been on the fence about the pool, but is now "leaning towards voting for it." She said her family has a pool of their own, so they don't really swim at the community pool, but she felt it was a good facility to have in town, especially for younger swimmers looking to take swim lessons.
CHS will be open for all voting districts starting at 6 a.m. tomorrow. Absentee ballots are available through the Town Clerk's office.