Are we letting the Underwood die?

“The long term strategy is to wait until it dies, then leave it empty.” — March 12 Warrant Committee Meeting

An interesting side note from Wednesday evening’s Warrant Committee meeting. As I noted in my recent post, the meeting was really an opportunity for the WC to consider the impact of cuts to both the Town and School budgets before making a decision about whether to push for an operating override for FY09. This blog has focused mostly on the impact of cuts to school programs. But, of course, things on the town side of the equation are equally as unpleasant and could have an immediate and noticeable impact on life in town.

Underwood Pool

Take the Underwood pool, for example. The DPW has made it clear to the town’s leaders before that the pool is in dire need of repair and in danger of a “catastrophic” failure — which we interpret (optimistically) to mean a failure that is too costly to repair rather than one that, say, results in a true catastrophe. The town’s response to these increasingly dire sounding warnings has been, in essence, to wince and nod. There has been no effort to rehabilitate the existing facility (which has a host of thorny problems, including a less-than-ideal location, high water table and deteriorating physical plant). Nor has there been any effort to imagine Underwood 2.0, if you want to call it that (and I do): a replacement for the Underwood — perhaps in another location. Warrant Committee member Liz Allison stated that she doubted that town residents would be willing to raise the private money necessary to help fund the pool’s reconstruction or relocation (so why even try, right?) and that the long term strategy for the Underwood was to “wait until it dies, and then leave it empty.”

If you ask me, an abandoned and dilapidated public pool along one of our most traveled public thoroughfares isn’t the kind of postcard image you want visitors (or potential home buyers) to see when they come into town. Beyond that, I’m puzzled by the lack of enthusiasm for preserving what, by all accounts, is one of the town’s most beloved institutions. I’ve spoken with so many long time town residents since moving here and, inevitably, memories of summer days at the Underwood play a big role in their memories of growing up here. I remember my own grandmother, whose sister lived in Belmont for years, bringing my brother and sister and I to Belmont to swim on hot days when we were young.

Besides, Belmont may have funding at the ready should the town decide to put its energies behind preserving the Underwood. The pool is the oldest public, outdoor pool in the nation, meaning that money from the Massachusetts Community Preservation Act may be available to help restore it. Beyond that, the deed from the Underwood family that granted the land to Belmont stipulates that the town is obligated to maintain the pool in exchange for the land. Failing to do one could result in the town losing its lease on the property itself. According to the Warrant Committee, the town’s legal team is looking into that question as we speak.

These days, with the cost of private health clubs beyond the means of many families and an epidemic of obesity gripping the country, we need more Underwood pools, not fewer of them. Here’s hoping we can find a way to pull together and save the Underwood, before its too late.