WATERTOWN — Without anyone yet even getting their hair wet, the City Council on Tuesday night approved the first change order for the city’s controversial $3.1 million Thompson Park pool project.
In a 3-2 vote, council members decided to spend approximately $15,000 to $20,000 to make the bathhouse restrooms accessible year round.
Mayor Joseph M. Butler Jr. predicted the change order will be the first of many for the project to replace the old pool and bathhouse at the city’s historic park.
“Already, you’ve got your first change order before the shovels are in the ground,” Mayor Butler said.
He and Councilwoman Sarah V. Compo, who opposed spending that much money for the project, voted against the change order.
The pool project became a major point of dissension on Aug. 19 when council members — Cody J. Horbacz, Lisa A. Ruggiero and Ryan Henry Wilkinson — went forward with dipping into $2.9 million of the city’s fund balance to help pay for the new pool and bathhouse.
By doing that, Mayor Butler predicted it could lead to a financial catastrophe for the city.
The money approved Tuesday night will be used to construct partitions inside the bathhouse and install more secure doors to keep people out of the entire structure but allow access to the restrooms while the pool is not open.
City Manager Rick Finn told council members the changes to the bathhouse were needed to keep vandals out of the building.
He also suggested to installing surveillance cameras and other security equipment in the building.
“Security is going to be critically important,” Mr. Finn said.
Councilman Henry Wilkinson pointed out that having year-around restrooms were a longtime goal for the city, so that more people would visit the park during the winter.
City officials hope to attract people to snowshoe, cross-country ski and other winter sports.
John Trimble, president of C&S Companies, the Syracuse firm that designed the pool project, said council members had another option: isolating access to a family restroom with a single toilet in the building at a cost of between $5,000 and $7,000.
With the changes, however, the bathhouse will allow access to three toilets in the women’s room and two urinals and a toilet in the men’s room throughout the year.
The city plans to someday add restrooms in another part of the bathhouse that could be used without accessing the building. They were cut out of the project as costs skyrocketed during the design process.
They could still be added in the future, Mr. Finn said.
He intends to tell the contractors involved in the construction of the project about the changes before they begin work.
For weeks, the mayor and the council members debated the financing for the $3.1 million pool and bathhouse project after the bids came in too high.
During the nearly yearlong design of the project, several amenities were cut to keep costs down.
On Tuesday night, council members also learned that 17,000 people used the city’s two existing pools this summer.
Attendance is up from the 4,000 five-year average at the pools at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds and North Elementary School.
The pools closed for the summer on Monday.