WATERTOWN — The plan to demolish the Alteri pool will move forward, despite the concerns of City Councilwoman Lisa A. Ruggiero, and even a small group of protesters outside City Hall.
The councilwoman introduced a resolution to Tuesday’s council meeting agenda that would’ve halted the demolition of the Alteri pool for the season, pending information from the state Parks Department about a grant that was used to pay for the construction of the pool in the 1970s.
In a 3-2 vote, the council voted to reject that resolution.
Councilwoman Ruggiero said she was concerned that grants given to the city for the pool may have clauses that restrict the city from demolishing it, after hearing from an unnamed, but influential local citizen.
“I felt a duty to bring the issue forward and investigate it, because this person is a resident of the city, and asked via this county legislator for me to look into it,” she said. “I feel that it is our responsibility, as council members, to do our due diligence.”
After searching through city archives, the initial grant proposal that was voted on by the city council in 1973 was found, and the councilwoman said she took note of two particular paragraphs. Paragraph 24 of the agreement states that the city shall “not at any time,” sell or convey any of the property built under the agreement, and the city shall not convert the property into anything other than a space for public, outdoor recreation, without the express authority of an act of the state Legislature.
Councilwoman Ruggiero said this part of the agreement means that the city must maintain the pool location for recreation, and must get state approval for the changes.
She said people from the state government have already asked what the city intends to put in place of the pool.
Paragraph 25 of the agreement states that the city shall, on its own cost and expense, operate and maintain the property for public use.
The councilwoman said that paragraph 25 is very open-ended and could reasonably be read to state that the city must operate the pool for an unnamed, and therefore unending, amount of time.
She also mentioned how many city residents have reached out and expressed dismay at the proposed demolition.
Outside city hall, on Clinton Street, four protesters had gathered before the meeting with signs calling for the pool to remain open. They said that the pools are frequently used by the city’s poorer citizens, and without a pool in the Sand Flats neighborhood, they were worried more families and young people would be out of reach of summer recreation.
“They’re really promoting the Y, which, our kids, we never had the money to pay to go to the Y,” said Bill W. Dermady, one of the protesters.
Mayor Jeffrey M. Smith, Councilwoman Sarah V. Compo and Councilman Jesse C.P. Roshia disagreed with Councilwoman Ruggiero’s interpretation of the grant documents, and said that they do not have the same concerns over the language of the grant.
“Grants are not in perpetuity,” Mayor Smith said. “Nobody expects that a pool we got with grant dollars 50 years ago will be here in 100 years.”
Councilwoman Compo said that in all her years working with state grants, she has never seen the state come back and ask for its grant money back decades after the project is completed.
Chairman Roshia said he was shocked to see the measure on the day’s agenda at all.
“I was a little saddened, I was a little angered,” he said. “This has been an extremely difficult decision for the council, it’s been an extremely difficult decision for the community, both those folks who’ve been against closing the pool and those who support it … To continue to drag this out is an exercise in futility.”
Mayor Smith, Councilwoman Compo and Councilman Roshia voted to reject the resolution to delay the demolition of the pool, while Councilwoman Ruggiero and Councilman Henry-Wilkinson voted in favor of it.
As the city faces down the end of its lucrative National Grid hydroelectric contract in 2029, Mayor Smith said that the city needs to start cutting costs now to ensure the budget is balanced well into the future.
“This is not an easy decision, it is not a decision that excites people, it’s not a happy decision,” Mayor Smith said. “This is not about COVID, this is not about our revenues coming back, this is not about today or tomorrow. This is about 5 and 10 years down the road. This is financial planning.”
City Manager Kenneth Mix said the city’s next step will be to develop a plan to demolish the pool. He said the current proposal that the city is considering would involve coring holes in the bottom of the pool, filling it with gravel and topping it with dirt. Mayor Smith said that this proposal would likely cost the city between $20,000 and $30,000, much cheaper than the nearly $100,000 it can cost to run the Alteri pool for a season.