RARITAN, NJ - Opening one of the borough’s two swimming pools this summer has been on the Raritan Council agenda since May 12 without a definitive answer, but a final decision next week has been promised.
During an online Sports and Recreation Committee meeting last week, Mayor Zachary Bray said, “We can’t kick this down the road any further. I’m going to call for a decision on this at our meeting (Tuesday) because we won’t meet again until July 21 and by then most of the summer will be lost.”
Bray asked that the recording or minutes of the rec meeting be forwarded to the council members so that they have all the information they need to rule on this issue.
The meeting was held by Sports and Recreation Director Andy Sibilia and attended by committee members Melissa Harris, Justice Ifan and Joe Kempe, plus Councilwoman Joyce Melitsky, the mayor and about 12 interested residents.
The discussion centered around the seven-page list of requirements, mandates and suggestions that accompanied Gov. Phil Murphy’s thumbs up to Stage 2 public pools opening as of June 22.
Sibilia went through the list saying, “It’s an idea session here, so please speak up.”
According to the state directive, the borough would need to have a pool director to oversee that Department of Health standards are being met. Sibilia said there would need to be at least two lifeguards on duty per shift, plus an “ambassador” and someone to monitor the entry/exit gate and the bathrooms.
Someone also would have to be responsible for frequent cleaning and sanitizing of public areas.
The state requirements include banning pool toys and floats, staggering entry and exit times, marking off 6 feet of spacing in common areas, PPE and hand sanitizer accessibility and signage posted. In addition, staff members must be background checked, fingerprinted, trained and equipped on COVID-19 awareness and sanitizing procedures, and be temperature checked before starting work each day.
It was also determined that the outdoor shower water would have to be turned off because it doesn’t have a motion detector system and the benches would have to be moved out because public furniture use is not allowed.
Using the state standards of limiting pool access to 50 percent of capacity, Sibilia said that equates to a maximum of 40 people in the water at one time. The problem is that likely people won’t be evenly spaced because that pool’s depth is broken into thirds – 1 foot, 2 feet and 3 feet.
“If we have a group of older kids or teens in the pool, they are going to congregate in the deeper water,” he said.
There was a lot of discussion about pool hours and whether to limit pool access to only Raritan residents. In the past, the pool was open to everyone, but the committee determined that needs to change this year due to the capacity being cut in half and the fact that the towns of Manville and Somerville are not opening municipal swimming pools due to the pandemic, which means people from those towns could flock to Raritan.
This led to a debate over how residents could be identified – licenses, cards or wristbands, and whose job it would be to turn non-residents away.
There were no conclusions reached, but the committee members were behind the effort to find a way to open the pool this year for the children. One thing that was not discussed or quantified in any way is what meeting the state standards would cost the town, already burdened financially due to the pandemic shutdown.
Sibilia worked through the process with the rest of the committee, although he said he still had some concerns about safety and liability. He also mentioned that he was told by the insurance company that having people sign liability waivers would not be effective.
“I was told that waivers would be useless,” Sibilia said. “They would not hold up.”
He advocated for using the money that would be spent on the pool opening to purchase new equipment for other sports and recreation activities next year.
Everyone acknowledged that the governing body would have to take into account the ideas floated by the committee, the advice of the county health department, the legal perspective of the borough attorney and the counsel of the risk manager before making a final decision.
At the conclusion of the meeting, the discussion was opened up for public comment. Four residents spoke, each of them in favor of opening the pool, although two of the four stated they themselves would not be using the pool.
One of those people was Colleen Kempe.
“Since this is going to go to the council members, I would like to ask them, please let it go through,” she said. “Parents have the choice then to not bring their children, but if the pool’s not open then we can’t make that choice. So council, don’t make that choice for the parents. Let the pool open, let them do what they’re supposed to do, it sounds like they’ve got a really good plan and then parents can choose whether they want to participate or not. My kids will be in our backyard in our own pool, but I’m happy to wave across to the kids that will be there. I think they deserve it.”