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While there is no “for sale” sign in front of the Cheshire Community Pool, it's possible that the structure, which has become a lightning rod of criticism in Town, could be sold or privatized as the Town Council continues to look at all options regarding the facility.
Town Council Chairman Tim Slocum said earlier this year that, while the governing body was doing its due diligence on finding a replacement cover for the pool, they also discussed the possibility of selling the facility. While there were some issues and concerns, such as can a Town sell an asset that still has debt, those questions have since been resolved by legal counsel. But, "Obviously," Slocum says, "there are limited buyers for something like our pool."
"We just can't put up a for sale sign, but maybe someone like the YMCA would buy it," he said. "I am not suggesting this is a simple solution. We do not have a buyer, and we haven't negotiated anything with anyone."
Town Manager Michael Milone said he did meet with the YMCA, but wouldn't disclose any details of that meeting. He said he was asked by the Council to explore all avenues and that's exactly what he is trying to do.
"I'm not sure there are avenues we can pursue, but if there are any, we will look at them," Milone said.
Slocum said the Council did try to put forth what it felt as the best solution moving forward with the pool, but ultimately, voters rejected the $7 million permanent enclosure. Everyone knows the bubble that currently covers the facility will not last forever, Slocum stated, so a decision has to be made as to the future of the pool. In the next fiscal year, there is a request for a new bubble, which Slocum said would be researched and vetted by the Public Building Commission. A new bubble could cost between $500,000 and $1 million and the question remains, what happens if the voters reject that funding as well?
"We face the dilemma of proposing a new bubble for replacement. Assuming it passes through the Capital Budget process, it will have to go out to referendum and, if it fails, the Council will have a very real decision to make about the pool," Slocum said. "The public may force our hand to look for an alternate buyer and other possibilities. We have to do what's right, but convincing the public we know what's right with the pool won't be easy."
Milone said there are added complications to trying to sell a facility like the pool, some of which he couldn't discuss. However, he did say a sticking point could be the fact that a major capital improvement will be needed in the near future. Whether it's a new bubble or a permanent enclosure, if the pool was sold, the new owner would be saddled with that responsibility.
"The Council wants to exhaust all possibilities," Milone said. "Is there someone out there? I don't know. It could be a remote chance, but it's not an impossibility."
A door collapsed under the weight of snow and ice last year but, fortunately, the bubble was left unharmed and no one was injured during the accident. However, Slocum said at this stage in the bubble's life, it is a real possibility that this could be its last season.
"We can't put it off until the thing falls down," he said. "You never know when it will happen but, at this point in the bubble's life, we need to find a replacement."
Milone stated that, hypothetically, if the pool was sold to an independent company or turned into a seasonal facility, there would be issues the Town would have to work out. There would be the issue of Town staff, as well as rentals for athletic groups and clubs who rely on the pool for swim time. A shift in the pool budget, could lead to increases in other areas of the budget, but a cost-benefit analysis has yet to be complete because a decision is not on the horizon. Slocum said the Council will be "wrestling with a lot of things," such as possibly having the pool be a seasonal facility, depending on what voters say at a referendum. However, Slocum commented that the Council cannot put out an informative referendum asking residents what they want to do, rather, they have to make a decision, like they did with the $7 million permanent enclosure, and see if the public supports it.
"I can't read the tea leaves but I do know the public said no way to a $7 million structure and they might very well do the same to a $500,000 bubble," Slocum said.