School board votes to spend $400,000 to preserve pool

School board votes to spend $400,000 to preserve pool

CUMBERLAND – Paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to effectively keep the town pool open might seem like an exorbitant expenditure, said School Committee members last Thursday, but not when one considers what the recreational facility means to the town.

School board member Mark Fiorillo cited the case of a Connecticut community where the local pools were the first thing to go after the big factory in town shut down, noting that the decision ended in tremendous regret.

“We have something that very few people have, and I believe that the pool, if managed properly, which has not been the case since we’ve been on this committee, could generate money for the upkeep of that pool into the future,” he said.

Residents are currently charged a $3 fee to use the pool, located at Cumberland High School.

The committee voted to award the job of replacing the Dectron pool dehumidification system above the pool to general contractor ENE Systems of Canton, Mass. The price with the state vendor is not to exceed $407,923, paid for through budget savings achieved during the 2017-2018 fiscal year.

The committee had a lively discussion about whether the money for the pool might be better put to use elsewhere, whether they should push to have the town pay for it, or whether the schools should “even remain in the pool business,” said Paul DiModica, head of the school board’s finance subcommittee.

In the end, the subcommittee voted to recommend the purchase but only if other work at the pool, including fixing showers and painting, is also completed.

Fiorillo said the town has been discussing improvements at the pool for at least the past six years. He said this is an opportunity to get a brand new humidification system at a discounted display model price. The unit was displayed at a regional refrigeration trade show, he said.

“By not passing this, we are essentially shutting down the pool,” he said.

School Committee members agreed that CHS has an asset most other communities don’t, and it’s one worth protecting.

School officials noted that state Rep. Jim McLaughlin was seeking reimbursement for nearly half of the project from the Rhode Island Department of Education, meaning it will likely come back to the district next year. Because the building addresses a health and safety issue, the reimbursement rate is bumped from 44 percent to 49 percent, bringing the overall cost closer to $200,000. McLaughlin announced Monday that the town will receive the money from the state.

Last Thursday’s vote was made contingent on school officials receiving written or verbal confirmation that the reimbursement money will come back to the schools once it’s delivered to the town. School board member Steve Hess was the lone no vote.

DiModica noted that the public was all for fixing the pool several years ago when it was losing thousands of gallons of water. Though he favors fixing it again, he said he finds it “ludicrous” that the schools can’t direct more money to educational items instead of “just fixing buildings all the time.” While the dehumidification system is a “big nut” to crack, that replacement, combined with other fixes, should preserve the pool for the next 30 years.

School board member Bill Dennen said he, too, was leery about approving the expenditure without getting assurances that the money is coming back, proposing making the vote contingent on the reimbursement. He said the work should be done in conjunction with other improvements, including repairing showers and making locker rooms more functional.

Business Manager Alex Prignano said the schools have invested some $200,000 into a girls hockey program, and the pool is used by far more people. He said he thinks it helps Cumberland High stand out from other schools across the state.

Chairman Ray Salvatore agreed that the pool is a valuable resource, saying he used it with his youngest daughter and many other people do the same.

Fiorillo said it’s doubtful the town would ever come up with $400,000 to fix the pool, and without the major fix, the town will be without the resource. He said an unnamed group of people is committed to start raising funds to beautify the pool once the commitment was made to fix it. Many people have used the pool to swim and see it as a source of pride, he said.

Prignano said another matter to consider is the potential loss of state aid if students leave the district due to the loss of the pool. Many students receive college scholarships for swimming, he said, and could choose to go elsewhere without the pool in place.

“I hate spending the money, but I think it’s a real diamond that you have,” he said.

Also last Thursday, the school board voted 5-2 to re-elect Salvatore as chairman. There had reportedly been some backroom discussion about whether he should be replaced. Fiorillo and Amy Goggin voted against his appointment.

The Breeze reported last month that Salvatore had moved in with his girlfriend, taking him out of District 5, so he and former at-large member Hess, through a vote of the Town Council, switched seats.

Salvatore, responding to the less-than-unanimous vote, said he wanted to extend an olive branch to those who didn’t vote for him in hopes of working together in a positive way.

In another vote at the May 10 meeting, the school board voted to extend a school maintenance oversight contract with food service provider Sodexo for three years.

DiModica said he felt it was a good deal for the town, adding that Sodexo has done a good job considering what officials have given them for tools. The profit for the company on the contract is just 2 percent, he said.

Fiorillo said he believes the schools would be better served having a director of facilities who responds directly to the superintendent. He said his opposition was not a reflection on the work done by the company.

Comments

I thought the "poor school dept." is so broke. But you can spend $400,000 on a pool? Maybe you found another hidden account or you are trying to ditch your surplus so you can cry poverty at the budget hearings. Glad to see Mr. Salvatore finally made it to a meeting. He should be voted out because he missed so many. Check the records folks..they speak for themselves. The Council doesn't obey the town charter so why should the school committee obey theirs? This crew has got to go.