As another summer ends with Budlong Pool still closed, Mayor Ken Hopkins held a public forum on Wednesday Sept. 6 for people of the city and members of City Council to voice opinions, concerns …
As another summer ends with Budlong Pool still closed, Mayor Ken Hopkins held a public forum on Wednesday Sept. 6 for people of the city and members of City Council to voice opinions, concerns and thoughts about the proposed renovations to the pool while also hearing from experts regarding its current condition.
The only public pool in the city, many residents learned to swim at the more-than-Olympic-sized pool since it was first opened in 1939. With a petition of over 2,000 signatures presented to the Mayor on July 24 by the newly formed grassroots organization Cranston Forward, and supported by City Council members Aniece Germain, Robert Ferri and John Donegan, many vocal residents have made it clear they want the pool either repaired or built to nearly identical standards while updating it for ADA (Americans with Disabilities ACT) compliance.
On the other hand, the Mayor has been clear in his plan to rebuild the pool at approximately one third of its current size while updating the bathhouse and leaving further room for future phases to build a splash pad and other amenities that the people of Cranston can use in the future.
“I want a pool as much as anybody that’s sitting in this room,” Hopkins said to the assembled audience in the Cranston High School East Auditorium. “My whole life has been public service and giving back to children, to kids. It’s my whole life. Forty years of coaching, 27 of them right here in this building, I gave my life for what’s in the best interest of our kids.”
Hopkins explained his only concern in standing before the people of the city that night was to answer the question “what is in the best interest of the City of Cranston?”
“It would be very simple for me to just kick the can down the road and put a temporary Band-Aid on a pool that was built in 1969,” Hopkins said. “That would be the easy thing to do. The prudent thing to do is what I’m trying to get to the bottom of. What you have to understand is that a politician will give people what they want, but a statesman will give them what they need. I think that I have the information, and hopefully that you’ll agree with me as we complete this evening, that you will understand fully the position that I’ve taken.”
The mayor’s stance
Hopkins began the forum with a presentation of the information he has gathered regarding the current state of the pool and discussing members of the public that have been critical of his decisions regarding the pool.
“Many have voiced their opinions in open forums extremely critical of me and my administration,” he said. “Tonight I have the opportunity to present the facts and the information not for political posturing, but to answer the question as to why we should attempt another Band-Aid approach. I was voted into political office and handed the task of making some very very difficult decisions.”
Hopkins said he had done his homework, listened to the professionals and formed his opinions despite some people questioning his skills in leadership or saying that he was only doing what he wants while resorting to personal attacks.
Hopkins said that the ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funds to be used to fix problems in the city is a one time opportunity to create a more permanent fix of the pool than spending millions of dollars on a temporary fix.
“We have one shot to get this right,” he said. “We can’t come back here in five years and say ‘well we fixed it, the kids swam for four years but we’ve got to fix it again and we don’t have that money to fix it with. So, what do we do? We close it. I want to keep this pool open for the next 50 years.”
Hopkins said he understands the memories and the passion. He said he himself went to the pool when he was young, but he questioned whether or not preserving those memories was the right thing to do.
The Timeline of the pool
The pool was built by the Roosevelt administration. It has been updated twice by then, Hopkins said, once in the 1960’s and once more by Sal Saccoccio Architects in 1973.
“In 2017 a request was made to waive the formal bid document, and the reason this request was made was that Mr. Liberatore, who was the recreation director at the time, said ‘we will install a heavy duty liner in the Budlong Pool to save the city hundreds of thousands of dollars in cost for cement, power washing and paint. This will eliminate that for years to come.’”
This request, six years ago, was made before a purchase order was given to The Liner Shop for $197,000 in 2018, the Mayor explained.
“I truly believe that Mr. Liberatore thought he was doing the right thing,” Hopkins said. “Let me move forward to 2021. I had been in office for about five or six months dealing with a world-wide pandemic. Yet, being an athletic director I was always taught to be the next season ahead.”
Hopkins said that in March of 2021 he contacted the new recreation director, Ray Tessaglia, to discuss the pool. In June of that year an estimate to fix the pool came in to service the pool for $89,620. He explained that this was an estimate to service an open the pool if everything was up to date and perfect. However, he explained this was not the case and the estimate did not include work to the motors, pump house, filtration system or the pool house all of which needed updating to comply with state and federal codes.
September of 2022 brought a letter from Saccoccio and Associates to discuss a conceptual design of the pool, with the design cost not to exceed $7,500, Hopkins said. He continued by saying that the next step in the timeline was a meeting with Councilwoman Aniece Germain in the fall of 2022 at which, Hopkins said, she was shown a copy of the conceptual design and she approved of the idea.
“I had a lot of respect for her at that time, because the pool is in her ward, and I asked her do you like this idea and should we proceed,” he said. “She looked at that first conceptual drawing and was very receptive. When that meeting ended I thought we were on the same page, but unbeknownst to myself, somewhere down the line she had a difference of opinion. My guess is it was the pressure of some people who didn’t want to change, so she flip-flopped.”
A word from the experts
As part of the project, Saccoccio and Associates brought in aquatic design and engineering experts Weston & Sampson to look at Budlong Pool and design a new facility off of what they found, the administration in a previous press release. Team Leader and Aquatic Engineer Mark Mariano, PE, CPO led the effort to provide a detailed report regarding the pools condition and to provide designs based on that condition.
“The existing pool and pump house is where we focused our main attention,” Mariano said while discussing the pool’s current condition. “We’re looking at fairly older systems. When we look at the renovations done in the 60’s and the 90’s what we see is a Band-Aid, a Band-Aid and a Band-Aid, and sometimes you can only Band-Aid a facility so many times that you really need to restart.”
Mariano confirmed that ground water from the local water table was in fact a problem, and said that there were even problems installing the liner in 2018 due to water coming up through the cracks in the cement and causing the liner to rise even while a team was trying to install it.
Challenges found when reviewing the facility, Mariano said, included large leaks that lost 2.5 million gallons of water per season, lack of compliance with RI Department of Health requirements structural concerns due to the ground water and the number of lifeguards required as a result of the pool’s size.
The lack of compliance to RIDOH standards themselves could be expressed in six key areas, he explained. Minimum turnover requirements, a gutter that is not continuously level, pool backwash discharging into a neighboring stream, deck health and safety regulations as well as failure to meet both Federal Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act and ADA needs were all problems needing to be addressed. This of course is separate from the analysis of the aging bathhouse that also needs to be updated to meet local, state and federal regulations.
Temporary repair, that would last approximately ten years and bring the pool up to compliance, he explained, would cost the city approximately $5 million dollars before eventually needing more work before the year 2035. However, he said, a complete redesign to a smaller pool would allow for a more diverse facility could be completed for less money due to the projects smaller size and could be completed for just $3.5 million. This new pool would also have a much longer lifespan of about 40 years, not needing serious repair until 2063 or later.
Questions of Transparency
Since April City Council meetings have had updates on Budlong Pool as a consistent part of their docket. Councilwoman Aniece Germain has been a regular voice in asking for updates and pushing for a pool to be open as soon as possible to provide a place to swim, not just for residents of her Ward, but for the whole of Cranston. Recently, Cranston resident Karen Rosenburg, filed an Access to Public Records Act (APRA) request regarding a long list of communications and filings regarding the repair of and development of the pool facility.
During the August City Council meeting, Rosenburg spoke and brought to light a large amount of information that was, at the time, unknown to the City Council. While it is possible not all of the information was intentionally withheld, it led to the special City Council meeting that took place during the Mayor’s public forum on September 6. After learning of much of this information, the Council felt that it deserved answers and transparency regarding the current plans and conditions of the pool.
“I think that is why the Mayor held the forum that he did,” Rosenburg said regarding the meeting that was announced following her receipt of most, but not all, of the documents she requested. “He had a very controlled situation where nobody had the information that was presented, ahead of time. So, the Council and members of the public didn’t have time to look at it and see what it says and if it says what he says it does. There was no chance to absorb it or try to have a rational discussion. We were given two minutes a piece to sort of line up at the mic and ask questions that were sometimes answered and sometimes were not answered accurately.”
Rosenburg said the matter of transparency is what this is really about. She requests that people take a step back and focus on the idea of having a clear delivery of information and a respectful analysis of what the options are.
“Let’s step away from the debate and whether or not the pool is too old and really is just too broken down to fix,” she said. “Let’s step away from what kind of pool will meet the city’s needs, what kind of pool people want, how they use it and how much the city can afford. Let’s just like put that aside because we can’t even have a reasonable discussion about that right now, because the Mayor has conducted this entire process in a way that has failed.”
At the top of her list of concerns is the objectivity of the evidence provided by Mark Mariano and the Weston & Sampson Company. Rosenburg feels that because they were paid to complete a design by the architectual firm that will be doing the work their objectivity is called into question.
However, Councilwoman Nicole Renzulli may have alleviated some of these concerns at the most recent Finance Committee meeting where a resolution regarding the pool came forward sponsored by Councilman Donegan and Council President Marino, and co-sponsored by Councilman Ferri, Councilwoman Germain and Council Vice-President Vargas.
“The gentleman from Weston & Sampson said they wouldn’t be building the pool because they designed it because it’s a conflict of interest,” Renzulli said of her talk with representatives of the company after the meeting on Sept. 9.
Most recent developments
At Monday night’s Finance committee meeting the committee passed a resolution to utilize the previously approved $4 million of APRA funds and the additional $750,000 in federal grant funding to build, as Committee Chair Donegan said, “as large of a square footage pool as possible, but no less than 11,000 square feet.”
In addition to the pool’s size, the resolution specified that the pool would be rectangular in shape, has a shallow and deep end, swimming lanes, handicap access and an entry point for people of all ability and to make necessary repairs to the pool and bathhouse to bring them up to compliance.
The resolution was amended multiple times in order to make as many members of the council as comfortable with it as possible, but the council passed with six votes of yes while Councilman Paplauskas voted against it saying that he felt that the addition of a splash pad was reasonable and helped to provide more service to families with younger children and that, while he agreed with the sentiment, he could not support the resolution as it was.
“I realized one thing for sure, that we all can’t have what we want,” said Councilman Robert Ferri while discussing the resolution. “Not the Mayor, not Robert Ferri, not councilwoman Germain, nobody on the Council, all the pool advocates that have worked tirelessly to knock sense into people’s heads, we all can’t have what we want. If anyone wants to sit here and say they can then they’re just not trying to cooperate.”
*Editors Note: Our print edition lists Councilman Campopiano as having abstained from voting on the resolution. This was an unfortunate mistake due to his mic being off during the vote. We apologize to the Councilman and anyone affected by the misrepresentation.