RARITAN, NJ - Raritan Borough will not be opening the Frelinghuysen pool this summer.
Following a lead from neighboring towns of Somerville and Manville, the council voted 4 to 2 against opening.
Mayor Zachary Bray, who sat in on the recreation committee discussion concerning the pool on June 18, called for a council vote.
“I totally sympathize (with parents), but I believe the concern outweighs the benefits,” he said.
Council President Nicolas Carra suggested opening public comment prior to the vote.
A number of residents voiced their support for opening the pool.
Colleen Kempe, who also sat in on the recreation meeting, said that she thought Andy Sibilia, the sports and recreation director, came up with a great plan.
“The pool would be a great relief for parents,” she said.
Kellyann Gallagher also advocated for opening the pool. It should be up to parents, she told the council, to decide what their comfort level is.
Council members were provided with a tape of the recreation committee meeting and asked to be prepared to make a decision, since the next council meeting isn’t until July 21.
Bray noted that he came to his conclusion after contacting the borough attorney, the county and the risk manager.
Gov. Phil Murphy did include public pool openings in the Stage 2 reopening plan. However, he included seven pages of requirements and precautions, including hiring a pool director, lifeguards, an “ambassador’’ to monitor social-distancing in the pool area and a COVID-19 contact person, all of them trained and equipped in connection with COVID-19 awareness, cleaning and sanitizing practices.
The state guidelines also call for establishing a protocol for PPE acquisition and distribution, a plan for police notification and a non-compliance procedure established, a staff COVID-19 testing setup along with a “point of entry” screening for symptoms for everyone entering the pool area. Signage must be posted, hand sanitizers set up and attendance tracked.
Pool attendance and bathroom facilities must be at 50 percent of capacity or less and access points to the bathing area and restrooms must be “limited and staggered” to avoid congregation.
Councilmen Paul Giraldi and Pablo Orozco voted in favor of opening the pool.
Giraldi held off a vote in May waiting for word out of Trenton, and remained convinced that it could be done.
“We have nothing else on our plate,” he said, “I think it would be. beneficial.”
Orozco also supported the pool opening.
“I think this is something that can be done,” he said. “I know there would more work involved but it’s just a wading pool. The kids have been cooped up for a long time.”
Council members Joyce Melitsky, Joan Hutzler, Michael Patente and Carra voted not to open the pool.
Before voting, Patente offered his thoughts.
“I get it,” he said. “I can’t wait to hug my grandkids again, but it’s not time yet.”
His concerns included the uptick of Covid-19 in New Jersey among young people, along with being able to hire, train and retain the necessary staff.
After the vote, two members of the recreation committee spoke about their frustration at the decision. Joe Kempe said that what he was hearing from the council was counter to what was discussed at the recreation meeting.
“I’m disappointed in the vote,” he said.
Melissa Harris also was disappointed in the vote.
“A lot of work went into the plan to safely open the pool,” she said.
Sibilia agreed that the recreation committee did come up with some good ideas, but they were just ideas, not the details necessary to move forward.
He added that after the committee meeting, the four council members who voted against opening the pool contacted him. They all were struggling with their decision, but, in the end, concluded that there is still too much risk.
As liaison to the recreation committee, Melitsky said she put a lot of thought into her decision and apologized to parents.
“I couldn’t sleep at night knowing we may have put our children at risk,” she said.