BETHLEHEM — The Town Board brainstormed ideas during its Nov. 13 meeting on how to move forward with the closed Dive Pool after it was discovered that its current state was beyond repair.
Jason Gallo, the town’s Parks and Recreation Department administrator, had presented an update to the board that night where he said the original $289,000 plan to improve the Dive Pool was facing its worst-case scenario — its concrete structure had severely deteriorated over the last 45 years.
The Dive Pool originally opened in 1973 but no major structural work or improvements were done since then. When the town began looking into it earlier this spring, its concrete walls and water infiltration were found to be deteriorated. It was then decided that construction be halted during the summer so as to not negatively affect patrons’ experience when coming to the Elm Avenue Pool Complex.
Over the summer, 1,230 residents participated in a free online 10-question survey where they answered questions about how often they visit the pool complex, how many family members accompany them, if they take part in aquatic or diving programs there, their perspective on the complex’s fees and to rate their overall user experience there. The survey also included questions like what amenity type they would like if the Dive Pool had to be replaced if it’s too expensive to do so, whether the Dive Pool should be repaired no matter the cost, and if the pool complex is still attractive without a Dive Pool at all.
Town Board member Jim Foster said he appreciated the use of a public survey as public input has helped guide decision-making for this project moving forward. “Even as we arrive at some unexpected issues and contingencies, I would stress the value of that public survey perhaps in regards to other additional projects the town might be considering in the future,” he said.
Gallo had said that this survey was done in order to gauge public input and consider them as construction on the Dive Pool later resumed in early September. Gallo said that around that time, “unfortunately, we have now discovered that the Dive Pool must be completely rebuilt” as opposed to the original plan to simply improve it.
Two options ahead
Gallo said the town now has to consider one of two options: replacing the current one with an all-new Dive Pool or building a new double-slide pool.
The first option, projected to cost $900,000, would be a 40-by-40 replacement Dive Pool that is 12 feet deep. Other expected works include installing proper drainage, new under- and main drains, new dive towers and a new concrete deck. He explained its high cost is due to a number of factors: prevailing wages have to be paid, the replacement concrete deck needs many materials and much skilled labor, and in order for it to hopefully be open by summer 2020, it would have to be constructed during this winter season. This means that more work is needed to protect and heat the site during the winter.
Regarding the aforementioned survey, Gallo presented that 826 residents, or 68 percent of the 1,230 people who took it, said they believe the Dive Pool should be repaired regardless of the cost and 876 people, or 72 percent, said they would still visit the pool complex if the Dive Pool was no longer part of it. Also, 745 people, or 62 percent, said they would prefer a slide pool if the town decides not to rebuild the Dive Pool.
This leads to the second option: a double-slide pool which would be 15 feet tall, 5 feet higher than the original 10-feet high diving board of the Dive Pool. Projected to cost $780,000, the 25-by-25 pool itself would be 4 feet deep and it is believed to have a “wow factor” due to its new bold look and can attract more users, especially children and young teenagers.
Regardless of which option the town decides to move forward with, Gallo pointed out that constructing a new pool through this winter is imperative to increase the chances of having it done by summer 2020. Gallo added, though, that it is not a 100 percent guarantee that if winter construction is approved that the new pool would be open by summer 2020 as it depends on the weather and its effect on the workload.
If the pool, regardless of which pool type the town chooses, is hypothetically finished by and open in summer 2020, the Dive Pool would cost $900,000 while the double-slide pool would cost $780,000 — this requires winter construction. If the pool does not get constructed through the winter and it would not open in summer 2020, the Dive Pool would cost $828,000 and the double-slide pool would be $717,600.
He added that the project can be funded by a mix of the Park Land Set Aside Fund and any surplus from the 2019 town budget.
There was general agreement among the Town Board members that the new pool, whichever option it may be, should be finished and open in summer 2020. They referred back to how many residents, as mentioned above, said in the survey they want the Dive Pool to be repaired regardless of the cost, support a new slide pool if the Dive Pool can’t be rebuilt, and that they still would visit the pool complex if the Dive Pool will not exist anymore.
The Town Board members also generally agreed that due to concerns and complaints from residents about the Dive Pool being closed this past summer, they do not want that to happen again in summer 2020.
Opinions began to diverge though when they wondered which option they should go with, although VanLuven noted that they were not actually voting on an option yet but rather in the near immediate future — such a quick decision-making is ideal so that winter construction can begin soon.
VanLuven, Joyce Becker, Dan Coffey and Maureen Cunningham said they would prefer moving forward with the double-slide while Foster preferred a replacement Dive Pool.
Foster said having a replacement Dive Pool would have a nostalgic effect as residents can remember the original one. “Having grown up in the area, it was always a mainstay and the big social event for kids, especially as they enter the teenage years and they congregate around there,” he said. “That unique feature is something I wouldn’t like to see lost and I think that was demonstrated in the survey’s data results. So, I would be inclined to go with the winter construction and a replacement Dive Pool option.”
VanLuven initially agreed with Foster, “The Dive Pool would have a much deeper resonance and a great nostalgic factor for adults, whether you remember jumping off as a child or remember watching your child build up the strength to overcome their fear of jumping off the high dive themselves.”
However, he added, “But I think the kids would much prefer, if you put the two [options] side-by-side, the slide pool. So, the question is, ‘Are we building this for the adults who are paying for it or are we building it for the kids who are going to primarily be the ones using it?’ We’ll have a great facility either way … but I’ve been thinking about who the core target audience is.”
Foster later countered by saying the Dive Pool has “a nice spectator sport dynamic” where parents and friends can watch someone, like a young child, jump off the diving board. “Watching one’s child build up the courage and also for some of the diving instruction, that takes place there where students develop their form, is a proud moment for many parents,” he said. “I may be wrong but that could be lost if we shift into a slide. It’s not quite as exciting seeing someone exit the chute and splash.”
Becker concurred with VanLuven, “I think we should be considering the users of either [option] and I think you’re going to have a much larger usage in the slide pool because it is the wow of today, not the wow … of 40 years ago. I took my young children there and I can tell you my daughter was a lifeguard.” She added that she brought up both pool options to her daughter and she said the latter believed that “the slide pool is going to bring people into the park.”
Becker also wondered what the age range for the typical Dive Pool’s user is and Gallo said users generally stop coming once they reach eighth or ninth grade in school.
Cunningham expressed concern over whether the double-slide pool is safe for young children and Gallo said that while the Dive Pool always required one lifeguard, the double-slide pool would need at least two lifeguards — one by the pool itself and one to guide a user as they physically get into the slide and launch off. Gallo noted that the Dive Pool is not 100 percent safe though as there have been kids who have slipped off while climbing the ladders.
Coffey asked if there is time to hold another public survey to ask residents specifically if they prefer a replacement Dive Pool or a double-slide pool, since the previous survey happened before the town realized the current Dive Pool was beyond repair. “We certainly could try to put things out on social media but … we don’t have enough time, I don’t believe,” Gallo answered.
VanLuven chimed in, “If we want construction to start this winter, we have to get the RFP [request for proposal] like next week and that’s to give construction companies the time to get us their bids. In the beginning of December, for engineers to look at the options and make recommendations and for the town board to approve it in the beginning of January.”
“If we push it out,” he added. “We’re going to lose that winter construction window.”
Looking ahead, the Town Board will have to select which pool option and permit winter construction or not as part of the project’s RFP in order for it to be put out for bid. The Town Board expects to award a contract in early January.