Unhappy swimmers pressure Newton Council on pool closure issue

| 16 May 2019 | 11:31

Unhappy swimmers push Newton Council on pool closure issue
By Mandy Coriston
On Feb 13, Newton Town Manager Thomas Russo released a statement that the Newton Pool would be closed for the 2019 season. In the two months since, unhappy residents have been pressing the town’s council and administration for more information and advocating for the swift assessment and repair of the 43-year-old recreation facility.
Tracy Paparella is a long-time resident, pool user, and the president of the Newton Sharks swim team. While she is happy that the team has been able to ‘find other waters’ for the summer, she is apprehensive about the future of the pool and the immediate problem of the 2019 closure.
“Other facilities have been gracious about letting us use their pools this summer,” she said, “So the Sharks will have a 2019 swim season. But what about all the other children in town? What will they do? We need answers.”
Paparella has been busy seeking those answers; she has been speaking at council meetings since the closure was announced, started a Facebook page to band together with like-minded residents, and has contacted town and school officials to try and find an alternative solution for Newton kids to stay cool this summer. She said the school superintendent, Dr. G. Kennedy Greene, was open to ideas but nothing formal has been proposed or decided.
“I know it’s too late to get the pool open this year,” she said, “So I’m reaching out to other pools and trying to find transportation methods to get our children from point A to point B to swim.”
The town cites several reasons for the decision to close the pool for this year, including a need to re-plaster the interior of the pool, determine the location of a leak costing thousands of gallons of water, repair a severed electrical line, and replace a broken hydrostatic valve. Repairs are also needed at poolside, where some of the ‘Funbrellas’ are torn and there are some damaged tiles. The town is presenting a rough estimate of $250,000 to complete the repairs, and will be retaining an engineer to assess the damage and offer a more detailed estimate.
The town has also said that the pool does not draw the revenue it once did, and that they need to determine the value of repairing and reopening the facility. Referring to decreasing membership numbers, the letter released by Russo and the council in February said the town must be wise about utilizing tax dollars for the pool moving forward.
Paparella and other proponents for the pool feel the town has been neglectful about the state of the pool and its usage, and are concerned the facility will fall to the wayside if the repairs cost too much. Schoolchildren have written essays to the council expressing their disappointment over the closing, and others feel that the town could have budgeted for pool repairs long before closure became a reality.
In her role as Newton Sharks president, Paparella is concerned not only for her recreational swimmers, but the Newton High School swim team.
“Our team acts as a feeder for the high school team,” she said, “and they have had a lot of success in recent years. I’d hate to see them lose momentum. I hope the council and the schools are considering that as well. The town itself created the team back when the pool opened, and even hired the first coach. I hope they remember that history.”
As a mother, Paparella is worried about the town’s children losing one of the town’s only recreational offerings.
“Many people who live in town don’t drive, or have the benefit of air conditioning,” she said, “and even if the town says that memberships only numbered about 100 last year, there were over 6,000 users last summer between members and day passes sold.”
“I raised my kids at the pool, and a lot of parents put their faith in their kids having good, clean, supervised fun all summer,” she added, “The pool isn’t a luxury, it’s an amenity the town created and needs to continue to offer.”
When asked about the status of the engineer’s report at the town’s May 13 council meeting, Russo said he expects the results by midsummer. While there may be developments sooner than that, the municipal manager was unable to go into detail as to what those might be.
The Facebook page (Save the Newton Town Pool) started by Paparella has nearly 200 followers, and encourages people to attend the town meetings and offer their support to find alternative swimming solutions for this summer and for the eventual reopening of the pool.
“I am persistent and determined,” Paparella said, “I cannot see a future without a place for our kids to play and learn to swim.”