RARITAN, NJ - To open or not to open the Frelinghuysen pool this summer is the question the Raritan Borough council is struggling to decide.

Although a group of parents did much of the legwork to open the borough camp this year, getting the details ironed out coupled with the pandemic made that a losing battle.  However, many of those same parents are holding out hope that at least one of the borough’s two swimming pools will open this summer for the children.

The council discussed the possibility at its two previous meetings and gave the borough administrator, Dan Jaxel, the directive to have the Frelinghuysen pool cleaned and painted while they wait on word from Trenton.

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The decision by Gov. Phil Murphy to allow public swimming pools to open starting June 22 was announced June 8, the day before the council meeting.

And while the news was welcomed, it did not come without strings, some might even call hurdles attached – a full seven pages of rules and regulations that must be met before anyone dives in.

Raritan Sports and Recreation Coordinator Andy Sibilia only had a few hours to try to decipher all of the requirements before the meeting. He gave the council a summary list of the steps and offered his opinion.

“My concern is safety,” he said.   

The COVID-19 pool standards include hiring staffers, 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 guidelines state a protocol must be established for PPE acquisition and distribution, a plan for police notification and a non-compliance procedure established, as well as a staff COVID-19 testing setup along with a “point of entry” screening for COVID-19 symptoms for everyone entering the pool area.

Pool attendance and bathroom facilities must be at 50 percent capacity or less, and access points to the bathing area and restrooms must be “limited and staggered” to avoid congregation.

Signage must be posted, hand sanitizers set up and attendance tracked.

And those are just some of the state mandates required to open the pool.

“There’s a litany of things to do,” Sibilia told the council.

On the risk management side, all staffers must be fingerprinted and background checked since they will be with children.

Sibilia said the governor’s guidelines in some areas are very subjective – using terms such as “regularly” or “often” – and he suggested Bill Robertson, the borough attorney, review them if the council decides to move forward.

“Our insurance plan says we need to dot the I’s and cross the T’s, so a slower approach would be better,” he said.

Looking at the logistics, Sibilia asked how they could turn people away when the pools are at capacity. Will the lifeguards, 20-year olds, have to monitor sign-ins, temperature check people, count heads and enforce social-distancing, he asked.

Councilman Pablo Orozco asked whether the recreation committee had discussed the pool opening and what its recommendation would be.  
Sibilia reminded him that the announcement and subsequent guidelines were less than one day old, therefore the recreation committee had not had the time to meet and review, discuss or recommend a course of action.  However, he agreed to Orozco’s request to convene a rec meeting and come back to the council with a recommendation.

Although there was no vote, the council’s thinking seemed split, with Orozco and Councilman Paul Giraldi wanting to continue trying to find a way to open the pool and Councilman Michael Patente and Mayor Zachary Bray concerned about protecting residents’ health and the borough from liability.

Patente said, “there were 93 deaths in New Jersey yesterday, is this something we even want to do?”

Carrieann Youngman, a resident who has been a vocal about children’s activities in town and helped author the camp manual, advocated for opening the pool.

“We need to keep an open mind,” she said. “The pool is a safe place for our kids to enjoy the summer.”

She added that it isn’t impossible to open the pool this year, even if it doesn’t open on June 22.

“Please keep it on your agenda,” she said.

Another resident, Colleen Kempe, said she was disappointed that more planning hadn’t been done to be ready for a pool opening.

“I’m disappointed we can’t even figure out if we want to hire some people and open the pool,” she said. “You don’t just sit back and say, well maybe the pool will be open. It’s really sad.”

Overall, Sibilia’s advice was to err on the side of caution and not open the pool.  

“I don’t believe it’s in the best interest of our residents,” he said.

Sibilia proposed using the money that would be spent to safely open the pool on better facilities and equipment for next year’s recreation program.

On that subject Giraldi said he agreed with Sibilia.  He said that Raritan currently has six ballfields and only two are needed now.

“My idea,” he said, “is to take the Prospect Street/First Avenue field and flatten it and use it for soccer and lacrosse.”

He added that he also agreed with Councilwoman Joyce Melitsky’s suggestion to put a walking and running track there.

“Let’s get a number and get it done,” said Giraldi.