ST. ALBANS CITY — City councilors agreed in a virtual public hearing Monday night that the time has come to replace the pool, though some in the public don't agree with the proposal.
“We’re going into our 41st summer on a 25-year pool,” said Recreation Director Kelly Viens during a virtual public hearing on bond issues and the proposed city budget ahead of Town Meeting Day. “A lot of damage occurs every year.”
Between snow and ice and years of use, Viens said the pool’s concrete foundation is continuously needing repairs. She said despite suggestions from the public to simply continue to repair the existing structure, the old pool has got to go.
“We’ve tried to put correct information out there, and what I’ve kind of found is that some people ... they aren’t interested in what the facts are, necessarily,” Viens said. “They’ve got a strong opinion.”
Residents and non-residents alike have taken to social media to make their thoughts on the pool known.
"When you need more proof that Vermont isn't taking COVID-19 seriously, here comes St. Albans proposing to build a swimming pool in a wealthy community that nobody can use until we take the pandemic seriously and there are families all over St. Albans facing eviction," said Brad Riley in a post on the Hard'Ack Recreation Area's website. "This is incredibly tone deaf."
"I intend to spend my weekends going door to door to let my friends & neighbors know it is now more important than ever to get out & vote or simply request an absentee ballot to stop the overzealous spending currently happening," posted Kellie Giroux. "I expected my local representatives to speak for the people of this city although I've been sadly mistaken. Time to get out & make some noise !!!!"
Others have posted in support of the plan.
"Although I don’t live in St. Albans anymore my Grandkids do and I think it’s a great plan," said Bruce Scofield in a comment.
"Thank you to City Council for going back to the drawing board and rethinking the project to try to make it happen with just the City funding the project," posted Rebecca Pfeiffer. "A lot of hard work went into this and we appreciate it!"
The proposed pool would be twice the size of the current one, with a design inspired by the pool at Smuggler’s Notch resort, said City Manager Dominic Cloud.
Budget sees police cuts
With a 2.5% increase in tax rate, the biggest driver in the budget was the loss of the police contract with St. Albans Town, totaling roughly $1 million.
“To reflect the changes in the budget, we’ve eliminated four police patrol positions, returning to a total of 12 police officers plus one detective,” Cloud said.
Cloud said the city has eliminated two street crimes positions, a dispatch director and parks patrol, and directed police to do foot patrols in the parks instead.
They’ve also reduced funding for the restorative justice center by half, from $30,000 to $15,000, he said.
The city has also eliminated a marketing campaign for $35,000, moved all stormwater costs to the stormwater utility, and increased non-residential recreation rates beyond the rate of inflation.
The pool project
Voters will be asked to approve $5 million to finance the construction of a community pool.
“We took last year’s $5.5 million budget and got it down to $4.72 million by cutting down on the size of the pool building and choosing to keep the road in its current location,” Cloud said.
Cloud said he’s fielded public concern over relocating the pool from its current location across the street from the elementary school, and what its loss might take away from the neighborhood, which spurred the effort to secure $250,000 in improvements to Houghton Park.
“We’re working to get one of our landscape architect planners on board to help define that vision for a revitalized Houghton Park,” Cloud said.
On the possible docket for Houghton Park is the introduction of a splash pad and general building upkeep and improvements, and the city is planning to introduce an AquaVan, which would shuttle city residents to the pool.
Houghton Park, Cloud said, would be just one of a few aqua-stops to the new year-round swimming center.
The pool’s tentative construction is in collaboration with Cross Consulting Engineers and Arnold and Scangas Architects. It includes an exercise and swim racing area, open water for free swim, and shallow areas, along with a two-building check-in and bathroom area connected by a roof and open-air space.
The budget for the facility, Cloud said, is tentatively $500,000.
“The vision here is that the local option tax will pay the debt payments of about $300,000 per year, and the user fees will be set to cover the operations,” he said.
In planning for a full-time aquatics director and hourly staff, $250,000 was budgeted, and $24,000 was set aside for pool chemicals throughout the year.
Cloud said that while the figures are tentative, the city is prepared to make some alterations and changes in fees and financials should the pool not be as popular as they think it will be.
As it stands, the fee would be $5 for city residents in the summer and $8 in the winter, Cloud said.
“When something doesn't pass, you have to be humble enough to try to figure out why,” Cloud said.
Kingman Street project
The cost of the proposed streetscape project is estimated to come in at $1.9 million, with a combined bond vote of $1 million in tax increment financing and $550,000 in VT Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds.
Fifty-one percent of the project is estimated to be paid for with TIF financing, said Chip Sawyer, director of Planning and Development.
The project will include creating wider sidewalks, a new crosswalk, trees, streetlights, banners, bricks, landscaping, and general improvements to finish wrapping the Downtown Core of St. Albans.
If the bond passes on March 2, Sawyer said he expects the project to being in April or May, and be completed before the end of the year.
The council also revisited plans to repair the storage water tank on Aldis Hill and build a new one next to it to remain in compliance with state regulations and take the old tank out of commission while repairs are underway.
The new tank would potentially be built just north of the old one and hold 1.2 million gallons of water, according to engineers Aldrich and Elliott, and would cost approximately $2.3 million.
The city is looking at the Vermont Revolving Water Fund for the total bond amount of $2.3 million, but officials are also exploring the idea of accessing a USDA Rural Development grant, for which the city is eligible to cover 45% of project costs.
The project is slated to begin in May 2022 and be completed the following October.
City councilors voted to approve a grant application for up to $500,000 in Vermont Community Development Program COVID-related funds to support housing stabilization and support for low-income families struggling to pay their housing amounts due to COVID-19, and to have Cloud sign the agreement if it is funded.