WATERTOWN — With split emotions, city leaders and the public broke ground on a new swimming pool at Thompson Park Friday.
The $3.1 million project replaces a swimming pool closed after years of neglect and will provide a new bathhouse and rest rooms in the park. The City Council narrowly approved the project and candidates for office pledged to try to halt the project after the Nov. 5 election.
A small group of onlookers gathered to witness Mayor Joseph Butler Jr., Assemblyman Mark Walczyk, council members Lisa Ruggiero, Cody Horbacz, Ryan Henry-Wilkinson and Sarah Compo, each take shovel fulls of dirt at the site.
After thanking the gathered crowd for coming, Mayor Butler was all smiles, though he did not hide the fact that he is opposed to the project.
“Quite a historic day, the long-awaited and much debated and argued about pool, it hasn’t come to fruition yet, but this is the beginning of it coming to fruition,” he said. “While I certainly didn’t support it, I’m here to support it today and support the role of the council and represent the city.”
Later he joked that he was looking forward to next summer so everyone could come back with their swimwear and take the first dip when the pool opens.
Among the supporters, Debbie and Bill Dermady, celebrated the milestone.
Two years ago, they decided to move back to the area they loved and became very active in the community, attending council meetings and starting clubs for youngsters. Mrs. Dermady said when they moved back, they felt there was a lot of neglect going on in the city, with things just not the way they used to be when they had lived there before.
“We want people to visit, so we’re making it a destination place where we have the park, we have the playground, we have the zoo, and now we have our great pool back.”
They handed painted rocks to those in attendance.
“We found on Facebook a place called ‘Watertown New York Rocks’ and they were making a lot of rocks for good causes, so what I decided was why not push ‘We need a pool’?” Mrs. Dermady said. “Last summer we spent many a day and over 600 rocks were painted, and then we placed them all over the area and kids were involved in doing this, they really wanted that pool.”
Councilman Horbacz called it a great day for the city of Watertown and for the 400 children living at the bottom of the hill who are underserved in the community.
“We’ll have the only fully ADA accessible pool in the city right here at Thompson Park,” he said. “We chose to make a huge investment in our community right here with this pool, it will be here for generations to come and I couldn’t be happier standing here with my colleagues who supported this project.”
The project cost is offset slightly by a $200,000 grant from Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie’s office. The balance will be paid from the city’s general fund. Site work began on the $3.1 million project earlier this month and the City Council agreed Oct. 7 to appropriate $157,000 to retain C&S Companies as the construction manager. Construction is slated to be completed in July.
“This pool must be built,” Mrs. Dermady said. “In addition, we must maintain all of our three pools in our city. Our kids and our families need it. Many of our kids don’t go to cottages, they can’t travel far away, so we need to do something for our kids.”