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For years, the question floating around town has been how many more harsh New England winters could the bubble covering the Cheshire Community Pool survive.
Last week, Cheshire finally found out.
The bubble at the pool collapsed during the blizzard on Jan. 11, as the weight of the snow and the rate at which it fell was too much for the structure to withstand. As Town workers turned up the heat and air pressure in an attempt to melt the snow and keep the bubble inflated, snow slid down towards to the south end of the facility and dropped the roof. The bubble came down roughly eight to 10 feet above the water, according to Town Manager Michael Milone, and poles used by the swim teams punctured the bubble in multiple locations. As the snow continued to slide off, the bubble was able to be re-inflated, but the holes were ripped open by the increased pressure, resulting in an approximately 50-foot long tear in the fabric. The secondary cabling structure that helps support the bubble was also damaged and the decision was made to deflate the bubble completely before any more damage was done.
"At this point, I don't think the bubble can be repaired," Milone said earlier this week. "Even if you could do it, you can't in this weather. The secondary support system has also been compromised."
Milone and other Town staff spent nearly a full day last week at the pool with the Town's insurance company, Great American Insurance. The pool and bubble, like all Town facilities, are covered by an insurance policy but the adjuster won't have more information for the Town for at least another week, Milone said. Also at the facility last week was Mike Roche, who runs the company hired to raise and lower the bubble every year. According to Town Council Chairman Tim Slocum, Roche was not optimistic about the bubble's future.
"It's certainly the end of this pool bubble," Slocum said. "(Roche) said the bubble won't be able to be sewn back together. Clearly, we are looking at a season that is lost."
Slocum said the Council will discuss the matter, most likely at its meeting on Jan. 25, to move forward with a plan of action. He said there were "a lot of things" the Council needed to "learn and discuss" before any decisions were made.
"I think we're dealing with a replacement for what we have," Slocum said. "We need to take it all in. There are a lot of questions and the Council hasn't made any decision yet as to what to do."
There had been some hope that the bubble could be repaired and re-inflated as soon as next month, but Milone quickly dispelled that rumor. He said there was no way it could be put back up this winter and the next time the pool would be open to the public would be when the bubble is completely removed for the summer season.
"All indications are that this bubble is not going to be repaired," Milone said. "We'll re-open in the summer, but it could be earlier than normal in the spring."
During the storm, when it became clear that the bubble was in danger of collapsing, several members of local swim teams were called in to try and help.
The YMCA Sea Dogs Swim Team alerted members via phone and e-mail in the morning. Parents and swimmers hurried to the facility and started trying to dig out the snow around and on top off the bubble.
“The snow got too heavy,” recalled Dan Mongillo, a Cheshire High School senior swim captain with Peter Broadbridge and Matt Richardson. “It (bubble) was on it's death bed.”
“I'm devastated. It came as a complete shock,” said Judy Senft, whose daughter Maggie swims for the Sea Dogs and at CHS. “I came into the house that morning and all my phones were beeping. I thought it was our phone system. They said everybody needed to get to the bubble to help save it. When I got there, it was too late. I was hoping it was just deflated, but there is a major tear.”
The closure has hit many pool users hard. Megan Mostoller, a senior captain at CHS last fall, began swimming at age 5 with the Copper Valley Club. A year later, she joined the Sea Dogs. She recalls having to travel around anywhere they could get pool time. However, since the CCP opened, it has represented a “second home” to her.
“It's really tough. We've been there since 2003,” added Mostoller, who arrived last Wednesday at 11 a.m.
Residents were further disappointed by Slocum's comments about the future of the pool, made to local media prior to the bubble being inspected last Thursday.
“I thought that irresponsible,” said Cheshire girls' head coach Ed Aston, who has instructed for 36 years at CHS. “I say let's wait until we hear from everybody from calling it a summer-only facility. This is all some of the kids know. They've made great moments there and he should realize what a statement like that does to them.”
CHS Athletic Director Steve Trifone and Sea Dog Head Coach Sean Farrell have been busy rescheduling meets and practice times for their teams since the closure. Both are currently practicing at Cheshire Academy, and will most likely utilize that facility and others in the area as the season progresses.
The Cheshire Community Pool is typically transformed to an outdoor swimming pool following the Memorial Day holiday in May, and then re-covered with the bubble following Labor Day in September. When there were issues with the pool's permanent structure two years ago, the bubble was not put back on until well into October, yet people still swam despite the colder weather. It's possible then, Milone explained, that the pool could be open in the elements earlier than it's usual post-Memorial Day routine.
The Town is also trying to determine the best course of action for the next few months, as the facility was never designed to be exposed to the elements. One train of thought is to leave the bubble down in it's current state covering the pool, and continue to heat the water and pipes throughout the rest of facility until spring. However, Milone said they are still working on a plan with a mechanical engineer to "figure out the best course of action."
Milone said the Town is currently putting together letters to send out to people who have signed up for classes or paid for a seasonal or year long membership. It is possible for those people to receive refunds, or pro-rated memberships, if they so choose, Milone said.
*Note: Greg Lederer contributed to this story.