SOUTH PLAINFIELD - South Plainfield Senior Center’s Breakfast with the Mayor took place Saturday, March 16th from 8a.m. to 12p.m. The quarterly event promotes discussion and addresses the concerns of the senior community. Saturday’s breakfast with Mayor Matthew Anesh included a presentation on the proposed community pool renovations with an open invitation for attendees to ask questions regarding the pool or other topics on their minds.
“When I first started here at the Senior Center, I thought maybe people wanted to talk about things that were happening in our town,” said Tree Olano, Director of the Senior Center. “I thought it would be helpful to have the mayor come here. I made a flyer and we put out some bagels. ‘Breakfast with the Mayor’ started from there. We have been doing it quarterly ever since.”
The fate of South Plainfield’s Community Pool is pending with a non-binding referendum vote currently taking place as part of Democracy Week, which began March 19th and will conclude at 12p.m. on March 23rd. Since it has been a point of discussion among the seniors in the community, the focus of this quarter’s Breakfast with the Mayor centered around the potential plans for pool renovations.
“This is an opportunity really to look at a major initiative for the town and weigh in,” said Anesh. “You see that happen with the school board anytime they do a referendum. Democracy Week is kind of our version. It started years ago under a different administration.”
Those who attend the quarterly breakfast with Anesh, say they find it helpful.
“I think the idea of Breakfast with the Mayor is really good because sometimes you form your opinions by talking to people who don’t really know everything that they should know,” said Linda Mackenzie, crossing guard and forty-eight year resident of South Plainfield.
“I am very grateful to all the seniors who came out to our Breakfast with the Mayor and Pool Info session,” said Faustini. “It is always a value to be in their company. They come with great questions, which help to offer insight into what the greatest concerns of our residents may be.”
Many of the members of the community pool are South Plainfield senior citizens.
“A lot of the seniors are going to be affected if the pool is closed for good, because that’s where they go every day during the summer,” said Olano. “They do their morning here. They have their lunch and then they all go to the pool. They love it. I think once it’s complete, the walk-in feature will be much better for them. Some of the seniors don’t go into the pool because they can’t go down the stairs. So it’s going be awesome.”
“I feel bad for the people that the pool’s closing,” said Gerry Brown, South Plainfield resident of fifty-three years. “I feel bad for myself. A lot of people are going to really miss it. I really like the idea to renovate the pool so it won’t close for good. Even if you have to pay a little bit more, it’s worth it. There’s a lot of potential, there really is.”
“For many families who don’t go away, this is their summer vacation,” said Faustini. “So the pool means a lot to the children of our town and the adults and we have quite a large group of seniors who enjoy the pool.”
The South Plainfield Community Pool was built in 1967 and it was expected that the pool would have a twenty to twenty-five year lifespan. Now, fifty-two years later, the pool is not safe to open unless the facility undergoes significant renovations. After breakfast and casual conversation, Anesh opened the presentation welcoming everyone and thanking them for coming out.
“This coming week is your opportunity to go out there and vote,” said Anesh. “What I suggest is you take a look at what we’re presenting here. If you have questions, feel free to ask them now. We have Councilwoman Faustini, Councilman Dean and CFO/Administrator Glenn Cullen here. They’ve been living with this for awhile. Council’s been looking at this since mid-last year as we knew that there was going to be a major reconstruction needed.”
“I think the governing body, the Recreation Department, the commission here, generally, we’ve done a good job in trying to keep this asset going as much as we can,” said Anesh. “And that’s what it is, you have to look at your major features of a community. Even if you don’t use it, it’s there for the community, it’s something that attracts people to town and it’s something that makes our community valuable.”
Anesh said the pool has undergone repairs to get through each summer season. However, at this point, major repairs must be completed or the pool cannot open.
“As far as the condition of the current pool, we have a pool facility in disrepair that needs a lot of work,” said Anesh. “The kiddie pool is literally just a hole in the ground that’s not up to ADA requirements. If any of you have been to any other towns or on vacation, you can see that what we have here is just lacking.”
“I’ve gone to other pools,” said Brown. “My son and daughter-in-law belonged to Colonia and Clark and there is a lot more going on there. They have the basketball net in the middle of the pool. In the kiddie pool, there are sprays. They have events at night like a fifties’ party. Our pool didn’t have that. They couldn’t stay open at night because there are no lights. The renovations should bring a lot more people.”
“Part of the problem is that families have choices as to what pool to join,” said Anesh. “You run the risk of losing members because they can go to other communities, which will let nonresidents into their community as well. They can join that pool for essentially the same cost as what they would do here. Any of the communities that have done any work over the years, now essentially have a stronger product, stronger facility than we have and that really hurts our ability to attract memberships. It hurts our ability to keep our own residents in our own facility.”
Anesh explained that the renovation would entail a major reconstruction and would mean closing the pool this summer to renovate. One major factor in the pool’s debilitation is that there is underground water affecting the concrete of the pool.
“We have fluctuating temperatures in New Jersey and water can play havoc on our concrete patios and structures, so maintenance is the key and the pool is overdue,” said Anesh. “You have a wading pool that is not ADA Compliant, the little kiddie pool, as some of us call it. You can see that some of the lines going back into the pool are above the water line. Those are the lines that filter water and, obviously, they’re not supposed to be that way.”
Anesh went into the work that has been done over the years in efforts to make repairs to the pool so it could open each season.
“Water filtration and chemical feed systems were replaced a few years ago,” said Anesh. “Waterslides were added. As most people know, the deep end went through a major renovation. We’re not looking to make this the Four Seasons or anything like that. We’re going to leverage what we’ve got. There’s a lot of features that we’ve put in to keep things going. That’s not going to be throw away work.”
Using drawings prepared by the architectural and engineering firm Brandsetter Carroll, Inc., who developed concept plans for the pool renovation project, Anesh described the recommendations for the overall layout of the pool, which would cost an estimated $2,475,000.
“Does this look anything like the pool we have today?” asked Anesh referring to a powerpoint slide of the design for the new overall layout. “It should look somewhat similar, but obviously a lot different.”
The new plans for pool renovations would result in a facility that is ADA-compliant with a zero depth entry added to both the wading (kiddie) pool and leisure pool, which would also have a new stair entry. Creating an activity center, play structures would be installed in the wading pool area including spray features, a climbable play structure with a slide as well as and a water table-style play feature.
“With the wading pool we have now, a child has to get right into the water,” said Faustini. “If they’re kind of scared, they’re not going to go all the way in and the parent has to get in with them. It’s also a step down, so it’s a little bit scary for moms and kids. With the renovations, they can walk right in. They can ease in and touch the play equipment, back off and they have a little bit more control. There is also a sensory component to it for kids who can’t go in all the way or can’t swim. They can still be included and play as well.”
“Like being at a beach, the new wading pool will go from zero to about eighteen inches, so little kids can sit in two to three inches of water and just splash around or go deeper as they get older,” said Councilman Jon Dean. “So it’s safer for parents and kids as well.”
“Seeing the picture with the children playing in the wading pool, really put myself in the place of parents who have younger kids,” said Councilman Derryck White. “Now they have an opportunity to bring the kids there, have a membership, have them grow into the major pool and have the ability to develop a long standing experience at the pool that they didn’t have before. All that is going to foster memberships and foster people to be there for a long period of time because now their kids can grow into being a part of the pool experience.”
Anesh noted that the main part of the pool, or leisure pool, would have a tall dumping and spray water feature, along with a whirlpool and in-water bench seating. There would also be a large in-pool shade leisure area. The competition pool/lap swimming area would eliminate the 50-meter lanes and relocate and widen the lanes while making them regulated length.
“This is kind of different, you’re going to swim the length of Cady Lane, not Maple, where is goes today,” said Anesh. “Anybody who has kids or grandkids on the swim team, these are now standard length, standard width and they can still facilitate more of the operation of other sections of the pool.”
“The swim lanes used to be vertical and now they’re horizontal,” said South Plainfield Business Administrator Glenn Cullen. “Anyone that goes to the pool knows that when the swim meets happen, the pool gets shut down. There are three distinct areas to appeal to every age group in town.”
The 7-foot section beside the competition lanes would hold a multipurpose activity zone with a climbing wall and a new open flume slid. The existing curved slide would remain in that area.
“We’re going to leverage some of the slides we’ve had and will add another slide,” said Anesh. "But we’re going to have some climbing walls and other features that will be added to that deep end to really make that deep end useful.”
“I think this is appealing to that pre-teen group," said Faustini. "When the kids get to a certain age and they don’t want to go with mom and dad, they have their own thing to do. They’ll be in this area, mom and dad will be sitting under the shade structure or in the younger kid area. So we’re hoping to get that crowd back. Instead of video games, they can come to the pool and be active in the summer with their family.”
A new feature architects are recommending for large pools are shade structures over portions of the pool.
“A lot of people love going to the pool and want to go to the pool, but they don’t want to out in the sun,” said Dean. “So shade structures over the pool are something new that the architect said they just started doing. I think it’s a great a idea. There actually construct shade tents and there’s seating under the shade structures. So hopefully, on those really hot days, you can go to the pool, sit there and you’re out of the sun and relaxing.”
Handicap entry points will be a key component to the pool. Whereas, the current pool only has one chair that lowers into the pool, the renovation plans indicate several Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant access points.
“One of the things I wanted to point out is that there’s going to be three different ADA access points,” said Cullen. “There are ADA ramps in addition to the zero entry. Over here similarly, there will be stairs with an ADA feature as well.”
“I really like the idea that it’s going to be handicap accessible,” said Mackenzie. “I really like that idea because I’m not the most sturdy person in the world, so if I was going to join the pool, I would like the idea that I didn’t have to go downstairs and upstairs to get in and out of the pool. I like that a lot.”
Another key feature will be a non-heated whirlpool with in-pool seating.
“There will be a mini vortex,” said Cullen. “It starts at zero and by the time you get to where the vortex is, you’re in about five feet.”
Lighting will be installed to allow the pool to stay open later.
“The pool itself will have thirty-two lights inside the pool as well as external lights on the decking area, so by the time you get to the middle of August, it’s getting dark out by 7pm,” said Cullen. “What we’re really thinking is that there’s a good chance of us having evening events, concerts, aquatics, etc. We’re going to have light. Anyone whose a member of the pool knows, there’s really no lighting.”
The pool’s main entrance will be moved to the side parking lot.
“Right where the big parking lot behind the pool is, will be the new main entrance of the pool, so the front of the fence is going to be all handicap parking,” said Dean. “You’re going to come in through there through a little pool house to check in.”
Anesh next addressed the question of cost.
“So what does this mean for everyone?” said Anesh. “ It doesn’t come free. We have our CFO here. Obviously, this is why you’re here. I can tell you as a pool owner myself, pools are not cheap. Councilman Dean can tell you, he installs pools and he owns one as well. Even a residential pool is costly with upkeep, between just the electric an chemicals. Imagine the size of a commercial sized pool.”
According to Cullen, the cost to the average household with capital and debt services obligations would be included in South Plainfield residents’ tax bill as $20 or less a year, over a twenty year period with the hopes that the cost would eventually be reabsorbed and cost the taxpayers nothing.
“This is an investment in the community, which is two million dollars over twenty years,” said Anesh. “That does not mean that your taxes go up twenty dollars and they stay up twenty dollars. We’re looking at continuously bringing in additional revenue from the borough, raising the revenue base.”
Over the past weeks, the issue of taxes and costs was a topic of conversation of the seniors, according to Olano.
“There was concern within the senior community about how much their taxes were going to go up,” said Olano. “That’s their main concern because many are on a fixed income and I don’t blame them. Breakfast with the Mayor lets us know what the concerns are so the rumors don’t start. And I think the way they’ve done it with a presentation makes it easier to envision. A visual is always better.”
“I’m already on a tax stabilized income and I don’t think it’s going to affect me as much as a younger family,” said Mackenzie. “In all fairness, I think that it’s a good thing for South Plainfield. It will increase the value of our homes. Maybe it’ll bring businesses and other people from other towns because of the things we have here.”
Cullen explained how the committee calculated the twenty dollar a year per household tax.
“The way you can check the math is South Plainfield currently has on our assessment roles a little over 7,400 homes,” said Cullen. “So if you take 7,400 homes, times twenty dollars and multiply is by twenty years, that’s what a bond like this would be. You’re going to find that it comes to about $2.9 million. That includes interest and all the other fees. And the commercial properties have a part too and have to contribute.”
The goal is to have the Community Pool flourish and become a place for the community to hold events and enjoy as a town. In the coming years, the committee members hope the success of the pool results in eliminating the twenty dollar tax all together.
“The renovated pool gives us an opportunity to have more events, whether that be more school events, more senior events, just general events in the tow,n where we showcase the pool as a facility,” said Anesh. “The same thing kind of happened with the library. We re-did the library, expanded the library. And even though they were closed for a year, you saw membership pick up, you saw a whole host of activities going on that weren’t as popular or as prominent as they once were. It gives us the opportunity to have a lot more of those events in a facility you will be proud of.”
“The more space you have and the better the facility, you can just offer so much more to the town,” added Faustini. “I really do expect us to see a lot of growth as we go forth with this. I don’t have a pool so my children really grew up going here. My son is now on the swim team, so it’s a really wonderful feeder program where you learn to swim. I think we gave out four hundred swim lessons last year, so think of how many kids learned to swim.”
“There’s a really good chance that the operating loss for the pool that we’ve had over the years gets wiped out and we start even building a profit or getting close to that,” said Anesh. “We don’t want this facility to lose money. Hopefully, we can make enough of a profit to pay that debt service over the years from that pool operations as well.”
Anesh said the Recreation Committee will be looking at implementing enhancements to the pool from fee structures to the way they give out daily passes and how nonresidential rates are handled.
“We’re looking at operating this like a business and doing something that’s reasonable,” said Anesh. “Two million dollars may not seem reasonable, but when you’re looking at a community of 24,000 people, it’s reasonable, it’s doable. And it’s to a point where we can re-coop the investment that we’ve put into it.”
If the decision is made to close the pool for good, taxpayers are still looking at a significant cost to remove the pool as well as repaying the bond taken out four years ago to repair the deep end.
“If we do nothing, it’s not like it doesn’t cost you anything,” said Anesh. “If after Democracy Day, we decide we’re not going to have a pool, it’s estimated that it will cost us $800,000 just to remove the structure that we have there and turn the pool to a grass field. You have to get excavators to come in to rip out and remove the concrete. They have to bring clean soil in. They’ve got to fill it up and regrade it. All that sounds simple, but it’s not quite that simple. So there are costs either way.”
In 2015, the borough invested $687,000 for needed improvements to the pool. Anesh explained that that debt would have to be paid whether the pool remained or was removed. He noted that any investments already made in the pool would not be lost if pool renovations were approved because they would be incorporated into the renovations.
“One of the things, unfortunately, is if we end up not going with the plan, we’re still going to be on the hook probably for between $800,000 to a million dollars to just clean up the existing facility and have nothing,” said Cullen. “So even though you’re looking at a price tag and saying it’s north of two million, the site itself will need to be rehabilitated and we will still have existing debt that we have to pay off no matter what.”
“So if we completely remove the structure and remove the pool, we still have the bond that we have to repay as well as the pool removal expense,” added Anesh.
If approved, the renovations would begin over the summer and take an estimated nine months to complete.
“One of the things about a major reconstruction like this and why nobody’s really thrilled about doing it is, ultimately, it leads to missing a complete season and there’s no way around it.” said Anesh. “It’s very difficult to avoid losing an entire season. It’s difficult, but it’s the choice we have to make.”
Anesh repeated the presentation several times over the four hour event, making sure to answer all questions about the pool renovations and other topics of interest or concern for the senior community. One attendee asked whether it was possible to lower the price by not adding so many features. Anesh answered by saying the add-on features were not the main cost, it was the construction of the pool that increased the price.
“The bulk of the cost of the renovation is in renovating the pool itself,” said Dean. “The added on features were nothing compared to what the main pool renovation actually needs to bring everything up to compliance. The rest is to enhance the property, enhance the pool and drive in more memberships.”
“We believe it will more than pay for itself,” said Cullen. “The library in the first year, it’s membership went up more than 180%. None of the neighboring community pools in our area have these updated features.”
Another question was about whether or not the membership fees will increase, to which the committee replied that it may be a minimal increase.
“You don’t want to raise the price of membership so much that you negatively affect membership,” said Anesh.
“What we’re looking to possibly increase are the swim lessons,” said Cullen. “Our swim lessons have been really cheap. Compared to the other communities, we’re pretty much giving them away. We’re looking into how we handle some of the daily passes. Some of the things that we’re managing, we think that we could manage them better.”
As Breakfast with the Mayor wrapped up, Anesh and others offered final thoughts.
“For this pool lasting fifty-two years and it only costing two million dollars, it really did outlive its lifetime,” said Dean. “The average pool life they say is twenty to twenty-five years. So we got fifty years out of it and we’re going to have to potentially put some money into it to bring it back.”
“If this governing body viewed the pool as an eternal money pit, we would not be up here,” said Anesh. "We’re not just proposing we dress up a pool that we know is going to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars, year in and year out. Nobody would be up here, if that were the case. This governing body wouldn’t have passed the resolution to have Democracy Week. They wouldn’t even be thinking about passing this bond to borrow two million dollars. That’s one thing I know.”
“I just want to say one thing,” said Mackenzie to the crowd. “We’ve got a terrific group of kids in South Plainfield. They’re really lovely kids and I like the idea that they’re going to have a structured, safe place to go where their parents won’t have to worry about them that much so you opened my eyes today. I see it a little differently than I saw it before.”
Many agreed that the children of South Plainfield of all ages would greatly benefit from having a swimming pool.
“One of the things too that I never really thought about was also the kids that are on the swim team,” said Dean. “Not every child is a wrestler, football player, softball player, soccer player. Now we have kids that are very active on the swim team and if we take this away from them, it’s like we’re taking that away from them because we want to put more money into other sports, so it’s keeping everyone active and doing what they enjoy.”
Those who came to Breakfast with the Mayor said they felt more informed and appreciated the presentation.
“I sincerely hope we were able to answer everything on the minds of the seniors who came out and give them the information they need to determine the value of this investment to our town,” said Faustini.
“I came with the idea that I don’t think we really needed the pool,” said Mackenzie. “I’m leaving with the impression that I think it’s a good idea because I like the kids in South Plainfield. I think it’s a good place for them to be. It’s a safe place for them to be and it’s also for the schools who can do the swimming. There’s a lot of pluses to this that I did not realize.”
“I think the plan is great, I really do,” said Senior Center Volunteer Grace McGinnis, South Plainfield resident of sixty-three years.
“I’ve been in South Plainfield since 1968,” said Al Lepore. “My kids went through the pool. They had swim lessons. They grew up there. We used to go all the time. It wasn’t our summer vacation, but pretty close. I think renovating the community pool is a good thing for the town. It would enhance the town.”
“I hope the pool does get renovated and brings back the family aspect because when I first moved here, everyone told me about the pool and I joined right away,” said Olano. “Then my kids joined the swim team and it was like a little family. So they grow up and they change, but I still love going to the pool. I see my old friends and all the seniors who go sunbathing everyday from 2:30pm on.”
“This is a property value protector,” said Anesh. “If you don’t have certain things in a community, you’re not going to attract residents and that directly translates into anybody’s ability to sell their home or increase property values. People have choices in the world. This presents a complete package to attract people into town, to keep people in town and that directly results in making sure our property values remain where they are and we remain a desired community.”
The Recreation Commission asks that all those South Plainfield residents legally allowed to vote, go to Borough Hall this week for Democracy Week to cast their vote for the referendum regarding the $2,475,000 renovation of the pool facility. Voting is open during the following times this week: Tuesday, March 19 – 8 a.m. to 4 p.m, Wednesday, March 20 – 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Thursday, March 21 –7 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., Friday, March 22 – 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday, March 23 – 8 a.m. to noon. The referendum can be viewed online at https://bit.ly/2INAjCr.