Byram Pool Neighbor: Think Twice on Jr. League’s Disney Land Ambitions

The following letter was submitted by Judy Crystal, a Byram Park neighbor and longtime Greenwich resident:

What passes for a public pool in Byram Park is woefully inadequate, ecologically unsound, a source of pollution, and an embarrassment to our town.  What is currently being proposed by several vocal members of the Junior League is appallingly out of scale, a financial quagmire of massive proportion – and an embarrassment to our town.

As a ten-year resident of Byram (and a more than four-decades citizen of Greenwich) I understand that the pool needs to be replaced. Pollution of the surrounding soil has been ongoing.  Agreeing that a larger capacity is a good idea, I find the proposal as currently stated absurd.

We might look to New Canaan, where a renovated pool facility, woefully underused, has led to a lottery for 100 families from Norwalk, Bridgeport and Stamford, whose revenue is needed to keep the new pool’s balance sheet only slightly in the red.  And the New Canaan facility cost only $3.8 million.

Not included in any of the figures I’ve been able to procure are the added costs of more lifeguards and the costs accruing to their hire and retention, more sanitation help, not merely for the pool surround, but for the proposed locker rooms, (and, while I’m at it, who’s supposed to be using those locker rooms?) and increased insurance costs for both liability and structural insurance. (Anyone in the area can tell you about the huge increase in insurance rates since Hurricane Sandy.)  There are tax implications for all Greenwich taxpayers that ought to be made explicit before the project is undertaken.

Hurricane Sandy has made rebuilding/enlarging the facility in its current location impossible.  Therefore, siting the pool at the old Ritch quarry may be inevitable.  However, the question of soil remediation far outstrips the current 18-inch depth that was examined…and that, we’ve been told, carries a $1.8 million dollar price tag.  No mention has been made of radon pollution, although much of the park is on ledge (n.b. the quarry).  Is this another “unexpected” cost – such as those we’ve seen at Greenwich High School?

From an esthetic point of view, a larger pool, its surround, a larger concession stand and increased parking to allow access to the greatly increased number of swimmers will blacktop a considerable area in what now is a much needed green space in our community.  The small buildings that will be demolished in no way match the amount of grass that will be covered with concrete and macadam.  To understand how much Byram residents treasure our park, just come down on a Sunday afternoon.  The delicate pastel rendering of a pool sent to League members totally disregards the surrounding area (including the presence of tractor-trailers on Ritch Avenue West, the immediacy of I-95 and the legally required fencing of pools.)

The cost factor, even with no actual plans on the table, has escalated by more than 30 per cent since the original proposal was made.  The Junior League’s promised $125,000 for each of two years isn’t even a drop in the bucket (pool). In addition, it demands that the League have final approval of plans before any of their moneys are released.  I would also like to point out that the League is a volunteer organization, whose fundraising has, until now, been an appropriate backdrop to planned activities.  With no capital campaign structure in place, I question whether even their $2.5 million dollar contribution will be realized.

Even with the public’s notoriously short attention span, surely enough of us remember the politicians’ promise that no new capital projects would be undertaken until the books were closed on Witherell, MISA and the Central Fire Station to put this new expense on a back burner.  There are several voices within the Junior League who are using scare tactics to push members into compliance with their Disney World ambitions.

It is my dream that our town will respond intelligently and responsibly to whatever proposals are made.  That a renovated pool is needed is absolutely true.  That one that serves 500 people complete with kiddie pool and splash pad (think insurance on that one!) is not only not needed, it is patently ridiculous. We are about to publish a new plan for land use and open space.  Paving over much of Byram Park will cause a revision before the ink is even dry.

Please, think twice before spending other people’s money.  After all, it is your money and mine as well.