It is deeply frustrating that the Hopkins administration continues to obfuscate while much of the public remains in the dark about his misguided plan to drastically downsize the …
It is deeply frustrating that the Hopkins administration continues to obfuscate while much of the public remains in the dark about his misguided plan to drastically downsize the Budlong pool. I would like to offer some facts.
The pool was closed in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic but could have been re-opened last summer but for the fact that the Mayor did nothing to make it happen. After being pressed by the Council for months about re-opening the pool, in April, 2022, he delivered a report on “options” for the pool, done by the architectural firm, Federal Hill Group, which does not seem to have any particular pool-related expertise. FHG’s report said that, despite structural and mechanical problems, it would be much cheaper to re-open rather than to replace the pool (for an estimated $2.5-2.8 million including refurbishing of the bathhouse, which is currently not ADA-compliant). In June, 2022, the Council unanimously approved a resolution calling for the Mayor to repair the pool and bathhouse as soon as possible and to use some of its American Rescue Plan Act funds for this purpose.
The Mayor ignored the Council resolution and in January, 2023 announced a plan to replace the pool with a new one that would be 1/3 of the current pool’s size and half as deep and to add some amenities like a splashpad, playground and picnic tables. The cost (including the bathhouse renovation) would be $7 million. The Mayor was unable to tell the Council where the money would come from, given that the City started the year with a $12 million operating deficit. Then, in March, 2023, he switched gears again, announcing that he would replace and downsize the pool and fix the bathhouse for $4 million, and maybe add the other amenities later. In May, the budget had to be finalized, so, without endorsing any specific plan, the Council amended the Mayor’s proposed budget to set aside ARPA funds for the pool, as the Mayor otherwise planned to borrow it at current high interest rates.
As word of the Mayor’s plan started to spread, residents became alarmed. In late May, a group of us started a petition to save the pool, which at this time has over 1,000 signatures. Residents we have approached overwhelmingly oppose the Mayor’s plan --because of the unnecessary costs, because a drastically smaller pool will not be crowded and unsuitable for lap swimming and swimming lessons, and because other amenities can be added at the Budlong complex or elsewhere in the City without downsizing the pool.
The Administration, which does not seem to have made any serious effort to gauge public sentiment, keeps trying to justify the Mayor’s plan by claiming that the pool is in terrible condition and that fixing it is just a “band aid solution.” But, in truth, he doesn’t know the condition of the pool because FHG didn’t drain or inspect the pool bottom and didn’t provide any evidence or sources for its claims regarding the pool’s condition. Former Parks and Recreation Director Tony Liberatore, who maintained the pool for 20 years and retired in 2021, says no one asked him about the pool’s condition, that the FHG’s report is full of inaccuracies and that the City just installed a new pool liner with a 20 year warranty.
While the Mayor would have us believe that the current pool is a money sink, according to the City’s audited financial statements, the operating costs for the pool in 2019 were just $127,000—just 4.5% of the City’s Parks and Recreation budget. (The pool also takes in around $40,000 in fees annually).
Meanwhile, the Mayor has no problem spending extravagantly on other projects that benefit far fewer residents, borrowing almost a million dollars for artificial turf for the Cranston West football field that will last maybe 15 years, and spending over $8 million for a gazebo and lights for a small Knightsville park. That kind of money could maintain Budlong for the next seventy-five years.
The Budlong pool is a historic landmark built by the Works Progress Administration in the 1940s, and is one of the largest outdoor public pools in the country. In defense of the Mayor’s plan, at the last Council meeting, Councilor Campopiano asked why Cranston should continue to operate such a large pool when most WPA-era public pools closed long ago and other RI municipal pools are much smaller.
In fact, many cities closed their WPA-era public pools in the 1960s and 70s, not because they were obsolete, but to avoid desegregating them. In those communities, affluent citizens retreated to private clubs and everyone else suffered. To Councilor Capopiano, I say why shouldn’t Cranston residents be able to keep enjoying our big, beautiful pool?
Councilor Capopiano also argued that Budlong has been under-utilized in recent years, when it has rarely been filled to capacity. People who routinely used the pool would differ—they say that there have been long lines to get in to the pool. With rising temperatures and longer summers caused by climate change, demand for the pool is only going to grow. And, just as with the public pool closures of the 60’s and 70’s, there are equity issues here. While wealthier city residents may have backyard pools, country club memberships or the time and means to take their families to South County beaches, working Cranston families need an accessible, affordable place to cool off and teach their kids to swim.
It a mystery why Mayor Hopkins is so determined to to destroy such a singular and beloved City asset, based on such thin justification and in the face of such strong public opposition. We plan to keep on fighting and we urge those who care about the pool to raise your voices, sign our petition at www.CranstonForward.org and get more involved.