Grim financial realities lurk beneath the surface of Carter Park Pool.
On Tuesday night, Ashland Town Council weighed those realities against what the pool means to the community at large.
“We’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on this pool as a community; the last thing we want to do is let that investment go,” said Mayor Faye Prichard. “We don’t want to not have a pool as a community. It seems to me that would be a tremendous loss. At the same time, we’re looking at a very difficult budget.”
The current impasse comes after the town made its final debt service payments on the early-1990s facility. Annual capital expenses to keep the facility running range from $15,000 to $45,000, according to Charles Hartgrove, town manager.
He added that municipal pools have suffered slow deaths in many other towns once they’re paid for.
“What’s happened in a lot of communities is they’ve had their pool, they paid it off, they were keeping it up to par and then just slowly quit putting maintenance funds into it and sort of let it die,” Hartgrove said.
That hasn’t been the case in Ashland.
“What we’ve tried to do up to this point is to continue to invest wisely – and only when necessary – in things that make the pool run smoothly,” Hartgrove added.
However, it’s reached the point where the town must decide between an extensive renovation of the facility, continuing to patch problems as they emerge or possible new construction. Hartgrove recommended that town council set aside $100,000 in its capital improvement fund annually for “the next several years.”
“That way, you’ll be at least a little bit better prepared for either one of the scenarios, whether it be renovation or new construction,” he said. “I’ll be honest with you, [if] you save $500,000 over the next five years, I’m sure that won’t be enough.”
Dennis Rabon, parks and recreation coordinator, said estimates to put a “big band-aid” on the facility have come in at $45,000 to $48,000 just to get the pool through this year. However, costs could go upward as any sort of construction progresses. For example, the pool has a leak and Rabon said just funding its source could surpass the $48,000 mark.
“The pool is one of things where it’s almost like you don’t want to look here because you’ll find something, and if you touch it, you’ve got to replace it,” Rabon said.
Edward “Ned” Henson III asked Rabon whether there was some middle ground between patching the failing facility and building a new one altogether.
“Is there something between what you just described – a big ‘band-aid’ – and completely replacing it?” he asked.
Rabon responded that the true scope of the issues there won’t come into focus until crews begin working to uncover the pool’s existing problems.
“There are some issues there, and I think we’re gonna have to do some digging to find out what they are,” Rabon said.
Hartgrove said, in the meantime, the town could get the pool functioning while they determine the next course of action.
“There are some short-term fixes we can do to keep things going,” he said. “At the same time…we’re evaluating the value of these short-term fixes versus renovation completely.”
“On a street, you don’t want to pave it and then come back two weeks later and replace the water line,” he added.
Hartgrove said the town’s parks and recreation committee will likely take up the issue as part of its long- and short-term parks strategy.
“We’d like to find out about what needs to be done. We all feel strongly about keeping the pool in service and we’d like to make the most reasonable decision – we want to know whether we can do an overhaul or whether we can do a replacement but we feel like we need that information before we can give more direction,” Prichard said.
For Vice-mayor Dr. George Spagna, shutting down the facility is out of the question.
“We’ve invested significant dollars in the pool since it was constructed. It would be silly to fill it in and plant geraniums there,” Spagna said. “That’s just not an option as far as I’m concerned.”
Before council got into more detailed talks, Prichard had recommended looking at implementing a community-wide fundraising effort to help fund pool improvements. However, research into what actually needs to be done there would have to come before such a measure.
“I would be hard-pressed to be approached about starting a foundation if I don’t know what the endgame is,” said Councilman Steven Trivett. “We need more hard data.”
“What’s the number we put on the big thermometer?” Henson added.