Amherst reaches deal that will allow public to again use middle school pool

  • Amherst Regional Middle School GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 08, 2017

AMHERST — For the first time in six years, town-sponsored lap and open swims as well as swimming lessons are being offered to the public at the Amherst Regional Middle School pool.

The town’s aquatics program moved to the University of Massachusetts campus following the 2011 season, after town officials couldn’t reach a financial agreement with the Amherst-Pelham Regional School District.

A new deal was reached in August, and the Leisure Services and Supplemental Education department is again scheduling activities at the school pool, which is just steps away from its offices at the middle school.

The opportunity to use the district’s pool comes as the result of a memorandum of agreement, signed Aug. 2, that calls for a $6,000 payment by the town for access to the pool for 12 hours a week this fall and next spring. That payment, based on the operating cost of the pool when middle school students are also using the pool, would rise to $10,000 if there is an extended period when it is not used for school purposes.

That rental amount is substantially less than in 2007, when the town paid the district $30,000, and school officials said the actual costs to run the pool were substantially higher.

Sean Mangano, finance director for the schools, said in an email that school and town officials began meeting a few years ago about structuring a new deal after getting community feedback at Town Meeting and other forums.

In fact, the question comes up almost annually at Town Meeting, with townspeople asking when they would again be able to use the middle school pool, which at one time could be reserved for birthday parties and other events.

“We are viewing this year as a pilot year to gauge how much public interest there is in accessing the pool,” Mangano said.

School officials are also evaluating the agreement and determining if it is sustainable based on pool maintenance and custodial needs.

The agreement specifies that LSSE provides lifeguards and a site manager, supervises all pool users and visitors, both in the pool and the locker rooms, and has adequate sign-in and sign-out procedures to verify that all pool visitors have departed.

Mangano said the pool program has run smoothly so far and he is optimistic about extending the partnership beyond this year.

LSSE Director Barbara Bilz said she, too, is confident that the agreement will remain in place.

“I don’t know of any reason that the agreement would be curtailed unless either party failed to comply with the terms and conditions of the agreement,” Bilz said.

Through Nov. 18, and again from Feb. 3 to May 19, Saturday and Sunday adult lap swimming runs from noon to 1 p.m., with open swims from 1 to 4:30 p.m.

The cost is $3 per day for adults and $2 for town seniors and youth.

Through Nov. 21, and then again from April 2 to May 29, LSSE is offering Tuesday and Thursday swim lessons from 5 to 6:30 p.m.

One Town Meeting member who has expressed concern about the pool being closed to the public, Amy Mittelman, called it great to have youth swim lessons and family swim and lap times return, though she hasn’t yet had the opportunity to take advantage of the opportunity.

“I am still hoping that they will eventually add weeknight times for adults and families,” Mittelman said.

Bilz said Totman Pool at UMass will again be the site for swimming lessons during the winter months because the middle school pool is used by the high school swim teams. The pool also is used by the Amherst Tritons youth swim team.

Those lessons at Totman will be Tuesdays and Thursdays from Jan. 23 to March 29, while Saturday swim lessons will run from Jan. 27 to Feb 24.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com