Hartford Pool Beyond Repair; Committee Says That Town Should Build New

  • Ella Stainton, 10, of West Hartford, Vt., was about to climb the ladder for the slide at the Sherman Manning Pool in White River Junction, Vt., on July 6, 2016. Stainton was at the pool with her twin sister and a friend. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 29, 2018

White River Junction — A Hartford committee looking at the future of public swimming options in town has determined that building a new pool might be more cost-effective than trying to repair and upgrade the 51-year-old Sherman Manning Pools, which are closed indefinitely because of leakage problems.

As a result, during the Glory Day Festival on Sept. 8, members of the Pool Advisory Committee will be at the White River Junction train station from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. to gauge public sentiment about building a new pool in town.

Residents will be given dot-style stickers and be asked to mark posters listing potential amenities they’d favor in a future pool, including features such as a diving board, slide, shade structures and a “zero-depth entry” that would be wheelchair accessible. There also will be a category for those who favor no future pool.

Besides its leakage problems, the Sherman Manning Pools has several code deficiencies.

It’s the latest form of public engagement set forth by the Pool Advisory Committee, formed last spring after it was announced that the Sherman Manning Pools — a large, “L” shaped pool and a kiddie pool available for public use swimming, lessons and summer camp activities at Hartford High School — would be closed.

Initial cost estimates to repair the main pool’s leaky gutter and shell were approximately $320,000, prompting the closing of the pool, which opened in 1967. It’s been determined that figure actually would be much higher after site evaluation work conducted by Waterbury, Vt.-based engineering firm Weston & Sampson.

According to posted minutes from the committee’s Aug. 21 meeting, Weston & Sampson project engineer Mark Mariano concluded that major technical flaws in the pool’s gutter and concrete structure were contributing to water leakage that has washed out adjacent soils and led to voids under the deck and pool floor, worsening the structural integrity of those surfaces to the extent that the deck surface violates code minimum variations in straightness.

A public survey posted earlier this summer drew approximately 750 respondents, many of whom expressed a desire to maintain a public swimming pool in Hartford. For example, 78.2 percent of respondents answered “strongly agree” or “agree” to the statement, “It is important that the town provide an outdoor swimming pool or other aquatic venue.”

Pool Advisory Committee chairwoman Hilde Ojibway, a proponent of maintaining a public pool facility, acknowledged the unscientific nature of the survey.

“In the parks, the streets and at public events, I asked people to respond to the survey and some of them said, ‘I don’t swim. I’m not interested,’ ” said Ojibway, a former state representative who lives in Wilder. “We understand that it’s not representative of everyone in the town.”

While a new repair cost figure has not been released, Mariano at the committee’s Aug. 21 meeting offered that the cost of repairing would be “on par” with that of building a new pool on site.

Ojibway emphasized that Mariano’s estimate was based on the value of a new pool versus patchwork repairs over time.

“I think the number we are really looking at as a committee is the cost per year,” she wrote in a follow-up email. “Whatever money is invested in the pool, we have to evaluate what that will buy over the years. Over the years of the investment, the costs between extensive renovations to the existing Sherman Manning Pool and new construction, assuming the same site, are likely quite comparable.”

Ojibway offered the analogy of decisions motorists faced when determining whether to continue investing in repairs to an aging automobile.

“Right now, the pool isn’t holding water, which is an essential function of a pool, by definition,” Ojibway said. “At a certain point, you stop sinking money into that old car and get a new one because it’s going to be a lot less maintenance over time.”

The committee also has discussed potentially building a new pool at an alternate site, including Wilder’s Killowatt Park, Dothan Brook School and Watson Park in Hartford Village. However, the committee consensus by the end of the most recent meeting was to favor the existing Hartford High location because of additional costs — up to $1 million or more in extra expenses, according to the meeting minutes — and construction-related delays that would be associated with a new location.

As it stands, a realistic schedule for a new pool at Hartford High would render it opening in 2021, taking into account all of the phases of the project.

“To me, that’s too bad because I feel bad for all of the kids who won’t have a pool in town for the next several years,” said Ojibway, a former lifeguard in her home state of Michigan. “I think it’s an important community resource.”

Pool usage dropped between 2014, when more than 2,000 season passes were sold with an average of 48 non-campers per day, and last year, when 800 passes were sold and 26 non-campers per day visited.

The pool was also closed for repairs in 2015, which Ojibway feels may have indirectly contributed to the decline. “You hear it a lot from business owners, that if a street is closed and (customers) cannot access their businesses for a lengthy amount of time, it takes them a while to get back into the habit.”

Selectboard member Kim Souza joined the pool committee because of her strong interest in town infrastructure and public spaces, and to learn more about what levels of investment the pool might warrant. At the Aug. 21 meeting, she requested that the posters during the Glory Days public input event include budget-conscious options.

Mariano, the Weston & Sampson engineer, said a “plain” pool would be one of the options for the public to choose on Sept. 8, but that the goal would be simply to gauge which amenities have the most appeal before designing a suitable pool within a budget set by the town.

“I’m glad there will be more public outreach at Glory Days, but I wish there was a way to represent the different options with price tags attached,” Souza said in a Wednesday phone interview. Building a new pool would require Selectboard approval, and, most likely, a Town Meeting vote on a bond to pay for it.

Those who are unable to attend the Glory Days event are welcome to attend Pool Advisory Committee meetings at Town Hall, Ojibway said. The next one is scheduled for Sept. 25. Public input also may be sent directly to Ojibway at h_ojibway@hotmail.com.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.