Wednesday, January 12, 2011

One Man's Opinion on the Fate of the Cheshire Pool

The jury is still out on whether the future of the Cheshire Community Pool will be buried under two feet of snow that fell Tuesday night and Wednesday.

But if it turns out that the pool becomes a summer-only facility, let the record show that it was because of a lack of political courage.

Ever since it opened in Sept. 2003, the pool has been a political pinata, something to be whacked at and criticized rather than a problem to be fixed. And every time an opportunity came to fix it, local Democrats and Republicans failed to act, deciding instead to study the problem to death.

You can't argue about the outcome of last June's referendum on replacing the bubble with a $7 million permanent structure. Voters rejected the proposal soundly and who can blame them, given the current economic climate.

But what is open to argument is what should have been done next. And instead of putting a plan for replacement bubble on the fast track, so that the estimated $500,000 cost could have been considered as part of a November referendum vote, the Republican dominated council chose instead to have Town Manager Michael Milone explore possible buyers for the pool.

No serious buyers were found and following the bubble collapse, which left a large hole in it, it's unlikely anyone will step forward to acquire the facility.

But let's get back to what happened Wednesday. With a scorecard for the pool that shows one partial collapse and a full one in the last 13 months, the council can honestly say that it has real concerns about the safety of erecting a new bubble. That will likely set the stage for the pool becoming a de facto summer only facility, which is what many on the council wanted all along.

How convenient.

But lest you think that my partisan colors are showing with this blog entry, I should point out that the real opportunity to fix this problem once and for all was frittered away by previous councils, when Democrats were in the majority.

The Democrats controlled the council from 2005 to 2009, so they had plenty of time before the recession hit in the fall of 2008 to come up with a solution to the pool problem. Once the recession hit, all bets were off.

I recall telling a Democratic councilman in the spring of 2008 that getting a proposed solution to the pools problems on the November ballot was critical. According to the town's charter, any expenditure in excess of $350,000 must be brought to a referendum vote.

I made that observation not because I had a crystal ball and could see the economic maelstrom that was headed our way later that year. Rather, it was because I believed then that nobody on the council, Republican or Democrat, would have the guts to run for re-election in November 2009 and support a costly remedy to the pool on the same ballot.

No potential solution found it way onto the Nov. 2008 ballot or any vote held in town prior to that.

So, now, the fate of the pool's year around status hangs in the balance. The town's political leaders will shake their heads sadly and say that what happened is the result of what current Council Chairman Tim Slocum called "an epic storm."

Slocum's right about the storm. But if this is indeed the end of a year-around pool in Cheshire, don't blame Mother Nature.

Place the blame where it belongs, on politicians in both parties who were more concerned with getting re-elected than showing some political courage.


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