Byram pool project to get key vote on July 24

Alan Monelli, the town’s superintendent of building construction and maintenance, gave an overview of what the proposed Byram Beach Pool Master Plan, which is an overhaul of the town’s municipal swimming pool, would look like. –Ken Borsuk

Alan Monelli, the town’s superintendent of building construction and maintenance, gave an overview of what the proposed Byram Beach Pool Master Plan, which is an overhaul of the town’s municipal swimming pool, would look like. –Ken Borsuk

The creation of a new municipal pool in Greenwich is poised to take a big step forward as the Board of Selectmen considers municipal improvement (MI) status for the project.

The board is set to vote on the status on July 24 and all indications were positive after its July 10 meeting where the proposal was formally heard. By granting MI status to the Byram Beach Pool Master Plan, which is required for any project on town property, the board would be giving the go ahead for the project to come before the Planning and Zoning Commission. It is only the first step as a formal site plan has not been unveiled yet but the first details of what the pool conceptually would look like were revealed at the July 10 meeting.

Alan Monelli, the town’s superintendent of building construction and maintenance, said that the current plan calls for work on the eastern side of the park, which he called one of the more unique ones in town because of all the passive, active and marine activities going on there. The impacted area includes the existing beach parking lot, beach area, garden, play area, pool building and, of course, the pool itself. A new pool and a kiddie pool would be built as well as a “splash play area” and a concession and restroom building, changing rooms, a filter building and a park entrance structure.

Mr. Monelli said the new pool will be 6,400 square feet with a maximum depth of 5.5 feet with “zero entry” meaning someone could walk off the pool deck to the full depth without having to step down a ladder. There would be six defined 25-meter lap lanes and an area for aerobic workouts, swimming instruction and family swimming. Overall the pool will be designed to accommodate 250 people and the kiddy pool will be 615 square feet and have a maximum depth of 18 inches. The splash play area would have water jets and other features that would allow for activities for kids outside the pool.

To make room for all of this, the current pool, pool house, concession stand, locker room and ticket booth would be removed. The project also calls for improvements to the parking lot to increase capacity from 116 cars to 139 while providing “a continuous traffic loop through it” according to Mr. Monelli.

“By positioning the inner park entrance closer to the parking lot the Parks and Recreation Department personnel can more efficiently control access to the both the beach and the pool,” Mr. Monelli said. “To comply with the zoning regulations concerning parking, the proposed design limits availability to the pool and beach to 310 people.”

First Selectman Peter Tesei asked about potential issues found during environmental testing, which is an issue throughout town (see related story on page one). To “address it up front,” Mr. Tesei asked what level of testing would be done on the soil before shovels were put in the ground, citing the issues with the music instructional space and auditorium (MISA) project at Greenwich High School where the discovery of contaminated soil from decades before resulted in a costly delay for the project both in terms of adding to the time needed and to the final price tag due to increased construction costs.

“We’re blessed in Greenwich to have a very highly educated, interested community electorate with people involved and there’s no patent on good ideas,” Mr. Tesei said. “What I am suggesting, I think, has been suggested by others and if we don’t advance that thought sooner it will ultimately be advanced later and it may become upsetting and painful for people to have to deal with in terms of elongating a schedule. This is something I would like to see before granting the MI.”

Selectman Drew Marzullo also pushed this, noting the need to discuss “what if” scenarios and determining what plans would be in place if an issue in the ground is discovered.

“This is a discussion we’re going to have for every major town project going forward,” Mr. Marzullo said.

Mr. Monelli said testing is always included in the design work including examining a history of what the site had been used for to determine if that could have led to contamination and taking soil samples. He said this is what’s been done recently in post-MISA projects like the fire station. He did note that there would only be three feet of digging into the ground due to the elevation of the property and assured the selectmen that testing would still be done. Before the land was given to the town, it did serve as a private estate but there is also a history of it being used as a quarry.

“We would sample for chemicals that we think might have been used there,” Mr. Monelli said. “We’re an urban environment. We find hydrocarbon soils all the time. Every time you dig up a road to put in a sewer line you find hydrocarbons. You have to know what to do with the hydrocarbons you find.”

As has been past practice under Mr. Tesei’s tenure, the board heard the item presented and will now wait until the July 24 meeting for the vote so additional public comment can be submitted first. The selectmen have all expressed past support for the project and indicated they were pleased with Mr. Monelli’s presentation. If the MI is granted next week Mr. Monelli said he envisioned going before the Planning and Zoning Commission in September.

The municipal pool at Byram Beach, which has been under town control since it was gifted to Greenwich in 1973, has been a focus for years from residents demanding improvement. It is the only town swimming pool and has fallen into disrepair, including leaks, in addition to not being handicapped accessible, leading to long lines and dissatisfied people. The town has been working on a public/private partnership to build a new pool with the Junior League of Greenwich with the league giving money for the project’s design and development. It is also expected to take a leading role in future fund raising efforts for the project.

There have been critics of the expense, saying the town, given the cost, should not take on any additional capital projects while it is already working on The Nathaniel Witherell, the new Central Fire Station and MISA as well as the potential costs for complying with Federal Emergency Management Agency regulations about building on a flood plane. However the proponents have noted the demand for the existing pool as well as the lack of other places for people to go in town if they don’t have access to a private pool.

The project has found support at every level so far but there is a schedule that must be kept to to allow it to continue to go forward. The Junior League has said that without timely budget approvals from the Board of Estimate and Taxation and Representative Town Meeting it could not go forward with its participation. Additional money is expected to be sought in the 2015-16 municipal budget next year.

At the July 10 selectmen’s meeting, Junior League President Cathy Youngman and Sue Rogers, chairman of the pool planning committee, both appeared and stressed the league’s commitment. It gave $20,000 to the 2013-14 budget for architectural and engineering work and $20,000 more to the current 2014-15 budget to take the project through the upcoming land use agency approvals. Ms. Youngman called the next phase, where the final cost of the project is determined, “absolutely critical to us” and said she looked forward to continuing to build a partnership with the town to make the park a reality.

“Contingent upon the RTM’s approval of the pool project budget, the Junior League will determine how much it will attempt to raise and how much it is prepared to contribute,” Ms. Youngman said. “We anticipate that the Junior League will commence preliminary work to design a capital campaign for the pool in the 2014-15 league year. We continue to work closely with Alan Monelli and [Director of Parks and Recreation] Joe Siciliano to provide design input towards the creation of a conceptual schematic. We recognize there are many financial and environmental parameters that the project must conform to and we are confident these challenges will be dealt with effectively.”

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