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Editorial: JFK pool a community gem

GAZETTE FILE PHOTO
A morning water aerobics class at the JFK Middle School pool in 2007. School budget cuts now call for closing the pool on weekends.

GAZETTE FILE PHOTO A morning water aerobics class at the JFK Middle School pool in 2007. School budget cuts now call for closing the pool on weekends. Purchase photo reprints »

In 1994, Northampton voters handily passed a hard-fought Proposition 2½ debt-exclusion override to renovate JFK Middle School. The project included a new community swimming pool. The vote of 6,232-4,778 on Question 10 paved the way for the $14.9 million project to renovate the overcrowded and aging middle school on Bridge Road and build a 25-yard, six-lane pool.

Supporters said the pool would not only enhance the school but be a community resource for exercise and fun.

Question 11, another debt-exclusion question on that ballot in 1994, would have renovated the school minus the $1 million pool project. Although that option received more actual votes than Question 10 — 6,783 for and 3,957 against — under state law the more inclusive project was the one that went forward.

When advocates campaigned that year, they said the pool would be a community gem promoting health and fitness for all city residents. Given that, we think it violates the community’s trust for the school and recreation departments to propose closing the pool on weekends. That’s now on the table as officials work to balance next year’s budget.

A proposed $40,000 reduction in custodial services in the school department — part of $773,403 in cuts proposed to balance its $28.61 million budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1 — has prompted school officials to say JFK must be closed on weekends, which includes the pool.

Meanwhile, the recreation department, which runs the Aquatic and Family Center, claims it can’t pick up the slack that would be created by losing school custodian hours. This is why weekend pool hours are on the chopping block.

Wait a minute now.

It is not acceptable to close the pool — this valued community resource — at a time when most people in the community can take advantage of it.

If the pool does close on weekends, it will feed cynicism and make people wonder whether they can trust public officials to keep their word when they come asking for support on a public construction project.

In 1994, during the override campaign to support the JFK renovation and pool project, school officials surveyed other communities and architects, estimating the annual cost to maintain the pool at $63,000, which they said the school department could easily absorb. Meanwhile, the recreation department chimed in, saying it would run community programs at the pool that would generate enough revenue to return about $20,000 a year to the school department for its use of the pool.

Opponents of the pool project back then questioned whether the school department would always be able to afford its use and upkeep.

Granted, times are tough all over and nobody in 1994 could have predicted the ways municipal budgets would suffer today.

But we think it is wrong for the school department and the recreation department to treat community use of the JFK pool as optional.

When city voters approved the override, they did so in good faith, believing that the pool would be what proponents said — a community resource as much as it is a school pool.

The city must not renege on that commitment.

"But we think it is wrong for the school department and the recreation department to treat community use of the JFK pool as optional." I don't believe it is actually the school department or the recreation department that feels this way...it is the mayor with his budget proposing the actual cut, is it not?

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