Amherst officials deem $4M estimate to fix bathhouse at War Memorial Pool too high

Amherst won’t seek a state grant to pay to rebuild the bathhouse connected to War Memorial Pool after deeming a $4 million price tag too high.

Amherst won’t seek a state grant to pay to rebuild the bathhouse connected to War Memorial Pool after deeming a $4 million price tag too high.

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 07-05-2024 7:32 PM

AMHERST — A $4 million price tag for rebuilding the bathhouse connected to War Memorial Pool is prompting Amherst officials to put off for a year applying for a state grant to cover up to a quarter of the construction costs, as well as to begin considering whether the town can do without one of its two full-size, outdoor swimming pools.

Town Manager Paul Bockelman told the Town Council last week that, due to the high cost estimate for the new bathhouse at the 2-acre site between Triangle and Mattoon streets, he is pausing pursuit of a Parkland Acquisitions and Renovations for Communities grant. That application would have been due July 11.

“Given the numbers we’ve just looked at, we’re not prepared to move forward with the PARC grant, which would be the major grant for this year,” Bockelman said.

Redeveloping the bathhouse and activating the area around the pool, including a basketball court that has fallen into disrepair and a spot where a wading pool once existed, has been the focus of concepts recently completed by Kuth Ranieri Architects of Franklin and The Berkshire Design Group of Northampton. Those concepts, to be done in phases, include the new bathhouse, an ampitheater and a splash pad.

With the expense for the bathhouse, though, Bockelman said the conversation may shift to whether the town needs to retain two outdoor pools. War Memorial Pool and its bathhouse opened in 1956 and is the older and more lightly used, with Mill River Recreation Area pool opening in the early 1970s. But War Memorial Pool was renovated in 2012 and continues to be the primary pool for summer camps, due to the proximity to the high school and middle school.

Assistant Department of Public Works Superintendent Amy Rusiecki said the aging bathhouse is driving the discussion about how to redevelop the site, beginning with a $750,000 Community Preservation Act grant and possibly a $1 million match from the state grant. She said it is a struggle each year to pass inspection so the building can safely open, with rusted pipes, the bathroom and shower floors in bad shape and concrete brick walls beginning to crack.

Rusiecki added that the “fun elements” of the site, such as a new playground and the spray park, would be part of future phases.

At Large Councilor Mandi Jo Hanneke said the cost of the new building has to be reduced, otherwise the town may get nothing from the project, referencing the recent vote on a new middle school in a neighboring town.

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“As we saw with Jabish Brook down in Belchertown, when you don’t think about costs, you lose completely,” Hanneke said. “I think $4 million is too much, we need to be looking lower.”

A much simpler bathhouse should be envisioned, said District 1 Councilor Cathy Schoen. “It looks like a country club bathhouse,” Schoen said, adding that it should only have what is necessary — bathrooms, showers and sinks.

DPW Superintendent Guilford Mooring said what was presented was already the most pared-down, low-key and low-frill design. “We made it as simple as it could possibly be,” Mooring said. He said the plans are similar to a bathhouse attached to a pool that opened in Buckland last summer.

“The question is really whether you want to have two pools and two bath facilities,” Mooring said.

At Large Councilor Ellisha Walker said Amherst needs two pools, as there is huge demand for youth to have a place to cool off, something she saw recently when the pool at Mill River, free for a hot day, was crowded. In addition, the spray park at Groff Park is now popular for birthday parties and out of town families.

“It’s been hard for my kids to even get space at the splash pad at Groff Park,” Walker said.

Council President Lynn Griesemer, too, said giving up one of the two pools, in face of climate change, doesn’t make sense, and District 4 Councilor Jennifer Taub said she believes War Memorial and improvements can be a magnet for those already coming downtown.

Hanneke said even though the basketball courts are in bad shape, they continue to be used.

Walker said the courts should be preserved. “We need the basketball court at War Memorial,” Walker said.

Assistant Town Manager David Ziomek said he would like more ideas for how teens and young adults can be served at the site.

For years, Ziomek said. the town heard appeals for a skate park, even though the University of Massachusetts campus remains attractive for those using skateboards due to the interesting concrete structures and buildings there.

“It’s not clear to us when people say there should be more things for teens to do, exactly what that is,” Ziomek said.