It was lost on no one that Monday’s groundbreaking ceremony for the new outdoor community pool at Byram Park was the ideal day for a swim. As temps rose toward the high 80°s, and the sun broiled the hot sand, dozens gathered for the long-in-the-making event.
Hosted by the Junior League of Greenwich, the ceremony was a high mark of public-private collaboration.
Those who descended on Byram Park to celebrate and reflect on the number of years leading up to the construction phase of the project, included members of the Junior League of Greenwich, Building Department, Parks & Rec, BET, RTM, DPW, and Wernert Construction, the local firm that was selected from three bidders.
Junior League of Greenwich President Sue Rogers said the community pool will be a place for people of all ages to gather, to swim, and enjoy healthy outdoor exercise.
The Junior League League, which has been committed to the pool project for many years, worked closely with the town’s Dept of Public Works and Parks & Rec Dept.
Rogers extended particular gratitude to Parks & Rec director Joe Siciliano and Building Construction and Maintenance Superintendent Al Monelli for their tireless support of the project.
First Selectman Peter Tesei described the pool project as a signature public-private partnership. He acknowledged former Selectman Lin Lavery for her vision and good work. Back in 2007, Lavery initiated the project.
The First Selectman acknowledged the Jr. League’s “strong financial commitment,” providing $250,000 of their own funds toward the project, and willingness to raise $2.5 million in additional funds.
“I don’t know if we’ll still be here to see it finished,” said Janet Staplefield, 85, who was at the ceremony with a group of pool aerobics enthusiasts. “We were here all the time when there was old old pool,” Staplefield continued, adding that the water aerobics group has about 40 participants and is run through the senior center.
Staplefield, who was with her friends, including Pat Finnegan, and Laura Logan, said that time was set aside on Thursdays from about 10:00am until 2:30pm. And while Staplefield pointed out the project was long in the making, it will certainly move forward swiftly.
“The construction’s the easy part,” said Jeff Freidag, the Town’s superintendent of Marine Facilities, with a nod to Max Wernert of Wernert Construction. “Remediation is done and everything has been cleared.”
Indeed the project was as long in the making as it was controversial. Long before the job went out to bid, the project wended its way through multiple town departments and soil was remediated after PCBs and high levels of arsenic were discovered.
A rendering of the pool complex, showed that the entrance to the pool will be stationed at a break in the original stone wall, which will otherwise remain in place.
There will be a separate entrance for visitors to the beach versus the pool, which will include a kiddie pool splash pad and pool pavilion that will house restrooms, changing rooms, lifeguard station and concession stand. The existing concession stand, bathrooms and showers will be demolished, which will afford some additional parking.
While Greenwich’s beach access policy reflects a precedent set in 1998 following Brenden Leydon’s lawsuit against the Town. Specifically, access to the beach for non-residents is predicated on beaches being considered natural resources. A swimming pool is another story.
“The court specifically said, ‘We conclude Greenwich Point is a traditional public forum because it has the characteristics of a public park,” town attorney Wayne Fox said to the Board of Selectmen on March 24, adding that Connecticut courts have made a distinction between traditionally recognized forums for exercising first amendment rights versus pools, and that a municipality has the obligation to maintain pool site safety and preserve a pleasant atmosphere for its paying patrons.
The pool is scheduled to open in the summer of 2018.
Part of the preparation involved the removal of the existing pool, which was part of the Rosenwald family estate purchased by the town in 1974.
The 5.2 acre waterfront property was one of three properties pieced together to form Byram Park. The original family size pool dated back to 1925 and was not only too small, but it leaked. Back in 2014, at a Parks & Rec board meeting, Mr. Monelli explained that the Ritch family, namesake of Ritch Ave, which runs between the park and I-95, had owned a granite quarry on the site in the 1840s.
After the quarry shut down, a private home called “The Anchorage” was constructed there in 1925 on the top of a steep slope of granite. Under the seaside mansion, at the foot of the steep escarpment, fill was used to level the ground above the beach. As a result, “The Anchorage” benefited from an attractive lawn overlooking the waterfront. In addition to the swimming pool, the property had a tennis court.
(The Town’s media library contains more park history, and its gradual transformation from a private seaside estate into a public park.)