Written by Ronnie Newton
Bids received to rebuild West Hartford’s oldest pool and swimming pool have come in at nearly double the budgeted amount, and while the city plans another bidding process, officials are confident the repair will enable the pool to be used in the summer of 2023.
Recreation and Social Services Director Helen Rubino-Turco told the City Council’s Human and Community Services Committee at their meeting Monday night.
City manager Rick Ledwith said the lowest of the three or four bids the city received for the pool and pool house replacement was $4.4 million.
“We suspected that one of the reasons it was so high was because the time frame was so short,” said Rubino-Turco, noting that while the original expectation was that the project would go up for bids in early June, the request for proposals wasn’t sent until September. .
The City Council approved the use of up to $2.5 million from the Capital Improvement Fund in January and earlier agreed to hire an architect to design the project. At the time, the $2.5 million license was thought to be more than enough, and officials thought the cost would come to $2.2 million to $2.3 million.
The Eisenhower Park pool, built in 1964, is the oldest pool in the city, and both the pool and pool house had already been replaced by a Capital Improvement Fund within a few years – a process that was accelerated after a serious problem with the pool was discovered in 2021.
When the city’s swimming pools were being prepared for the summer 2021 season, a major leak was discovered in Eisenhower, and with another deterioration it was also discovered, at a time when it seemed that replacing the pool was the only option.
Matt Hart, who was the borough manager at the time, told the city council that more safety and security issues were evident with the pool, including deteriorating concrete shells and decking, cracked pipes and leaks in the filtration systems.
The Eisenhower pool did not open during the summer of 2021, and also remained closed through the summer of 2022, with plans to complete the new structures for the 2023 swimming season.
There is a crack across the pool, said Rubino Turco, where the shallow end descends into the deep end. “This seam is the source of some catastrophic failure as well as the perimeter of the pond,” she said, but the city has found a contractor who will be able to implement a temporary repair to be made that will allow use of the Eisenhower Pond in the summer of 2023.
“What we decided to do was cut that section with a chainsaw, patch it up, and completely re-caulk the bottom of the pond,” she told members of the Human and Community Services Committee. “We are confident that we will be able to reopen the pool this summer without completing the renovation yet,” she said, and we put out a tender this winter to start construction next August. “Hopefully, the bids will make more sense,” she added.
Ledwith said that when the projection reached $2 million more than was budgeted, they redoubled their efforts to find a solution in the near term. He, Rubino Turco, and others from the city, he said, have met with several contractors, and have met with the chosen contractor several times and are confident that the temporary repairs will work.
“It was very important to us that there was a high degree of confidence on behalf of the contractor that they could actually fix the pool and use it for the next season this summer,” Ledwith said. “Our confidence level is very high,” he said after multiple meetings.
Ledwith told We-Ha.com that the repair would cost about $40,000, and emphasized that he had a “very high degree of confidence that it would work.” Expenses will be paid from the plant and utility budget, not from the Capital Improvement Fund.
“It’s temporary,” said Ledwith. “It still has to be replaced but we are able to use it for another year.”
Ledwith said he hopes that by allowing more time, and with some mitigation of inflation, the new bidding process will result in proposals as close to $2.4 million as possible, and said he will keep committee members informed of the process. The RFP will be released sometime late this winter, and the goal will be for the new pool and pool house to be completed and ready by June 2024.
Deputy Mayor Liam Sweeney asked if there appears to be price-measuring by contractors taking advantage of municipalities that have federal money to spend, and suggested that it may eventually become a situation that needs the attention of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, the legislature, or the attorney general.
“On almost every project we present now, we face the same challenges and issues,” Ledwith said. The city’s air quality improvement project in elementary schools also faces inflationary issues.
“We will be good stewards of taxpayer money and when we have to make decisions like that. We will take a step back and look at things differently,” Ledwith said. Problems with other bids will be brought to the attention of the city council, and projects will be paused if necessary, he said.
In order to free up funds to expedite construction of a new pool and pool house in Eisenhower Park, the city has pulled $2 million from the 2023 capital budget that had been earmarked for the multiyear flood mitigation infrastructure project, because that project could be funded in part by the American Rescue Plan Act. Ledwith said Wednesday that because construction of the pool and pool house will be delayed, the CIP money will again go back to be used for the flood mitigation project.
Committee members received an update on other projects in the works, including the renovation of the pool house at Kennedy Park to include ADA-compliant family changing rooms. That project is up for bids now, Rubino Turco said, hoping to get the work done over the winter and spring so it will be ready for use before summer.
Rubino Turco said the Kennedy Park project is eligible for funding through the city’s Community Development Grant (CDBG) program because it is located in a low-income area. A multi-year improvement project is already underway at Kennedy Park, and the irrigation system and basketball courts have already been replaced.
At Wolcott Park, the 1970s-era restroom and snack bar building has been replaced by a new structure with four ADA-compliant restrooms, with plans for that project to begin in the late summer or early fall of 2023. The lights in the baseball field are being replaced with funds raised Collected by West Hartford Youth Baseball League.
She pointed out that other upcoming projects are pollination gardens and rain gardens in each of the town’s gardens. Leisure Services works with a “very passionate community group,” she said, including Friends of West Hartford Parks, West Hartford Garden Club, Tree Action Group, West Hartford Land Trust, root2RISE, and Westmoor Park employees.
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