On August 23 Cranston Mayor Ken Hopkins announced intentions to hold a public forum regarding the state of Budlong Pool in the Cranston High School East auditorium on September 6 beginning at 6:00 …
On August 23 Cranston Mayor Ken Hopkins announced intentions to hold a public forum regarding the state of Budlong Pool in the Cranston High School East auditorium on September 6 beginning at 6:00 p.m., but the public made their opinion of the plan to resize the pool clear at Monday night’s City Council meeting.
With the last feasibility study of the pool done by the Federal Hill Group more than a year ago, the administration called on a national leader in aquatic design and engineering, Weston & Sampson Engineers Inc., to provide a report detailing the pool’s current condition. The report stated that “due to the size of the facility and the requirements needed, the value of repair will exceed the cost of replacement,” and “based on our findings of the pool in the current conditions, we cannot recommend repairing the pool.”
In an effort to explain and support these findings, and to follow through with what Hopkins called a promise of his administration, Hopkins has invited representatives of both Saccoccio & Associates and Weston & Sampson to discuss the reports findings and brief residents.
“As my administration promised, we will hold a public briefing for the members of the public and City Council on why the substantial physical and operational problems and the quick fix band aid approaches of the past are no longer a realistic or proper alternative to re-open the Budlong Pool.”
The updated report on the pool’s condition cites many of the same problems identified in the previous study, done by the Federal Hill Group in 2022, but was done by an organization with a background specifically in pool and aquatics design and overseen by Weston & Sampson Team leader Mark Mariano, PE, CPO.
Hopkins said, “In March, I said standing at the pool side, that no public structure lasts forever and today this facility is in need of a major overhaul and not just another band aid approach where we just spend good money after bad for limited short-term use.” He continued, “I remain more convinced than ever that we are way beyond those who suggest we are in the last days of saving the existing Budlong Pool.”
The mayor, as the result of his consultation with a variety of people in discussing the future of Budlong Pool, said that some “partisan activists and elected officials” have not put in the effort necessary to think of what is needed to create a facility capable of lasting through time and providing a facility to serve the people of Cranston, not just now but in the future as well.
The public speaks
Despite the partisan parties the mayor said are against his plans, the City Council saw a large turnout of residents from across at the August 28 Council in favor of maintaining the pool’s size.
“The Mayor never considered reopening the existing pool and intended from the start to replace it with a much smaller pool,” said resident Susan Blake, who has been a supporter of maintaining Budlong’s size while working to reopen it. “Not because the current pool is unfixable or too expensive, but because the Mayor wants to add other amenities to where the pool is now. The Mayor has consistently misled the Council and the public about the condition of the pool by hiding a June 2021 assessment that the pool could be reopened at a modest cost, misrepresenting the conclusions of the April 2022 feasibility study which said that the pool could be fully restored and not temporarily patched as well as comply with all regulations faster and cheaper than replacing the pool, falsely claiming that the assessment by Weston & Sampson engineer Mark Mariano concludes that the pool cannot be repaired or is not possible to do at a reasonable cost.”
Blake has made multiple appearances at City Council meetings, as well as appeared at the recent press conference held by members of the public and City Council Members John Donegan, Robert Ferri and Aniece Germain. The assertion that the Hopkins administration has failed to fully comply with an Access to Public Records Act (APRA) request filed by another member of the public in search of all records regarding plans to fix, change or rebuild the pool.
Blake referenced several pieces of information that were gathered by the APRA request that suggested several reports suggesting that information had come forth stating the pool could have been opened for as little as $89,000 but were never pursued and instead the administration moved forward with plans to rebuild the smaller pool. Concerns were also raised by Blake, and echoed by other speakers, that a $350,000 contract to design a new pool may violate state procurement laws.
Nathan Kirshenbaum, of Ward 5, said he reviewed several documents that had been uncovered through such ARPA requests.
“A 1/21/22 email exchange between Mr. Tessaglia (Parks and Recreation Director Raymond Tessaglia) and Mr. Moretti (Chief of Staff Anthony Moretti) in which Mr. Moretti instructs him to proceed with the Budlong Pool project, but that it must remain confidential to avoid creating distractions,” Kirshenbaum said while listing several documents that seem to support Blake’s claims. “February 22 of 2022, a Federal Hill Group letter of understanding with the city to do a feasibility study to develop a plan for putting a pool, splash pad, spray park and adult fitness area on the existing Pool campus.”
Kirshenbaum listed several other documents in support of the argument the pool could have been repaired despite the administration’s assertion that a replacement is the only option. Among the more than two dozen people who spoke at the meeting was Ward 6 Council candidate Dan Wall.
“People are kind of perplexed at the situation,” Wall said. “Other communities were opening their pools. Their kids and their communities are swimming in this very hot weather. Ours remains closed for a number of years… I urge Mayor Hopkins to open the Budlong Pool. Over the past few months I’ve walked the neighborhoods of Ward 6 and have had the opportunity to speak with many people about the closed Budlong Pool.”
Wall explained that in those conversations it has been made abundantly clear to him that the majority of residents have been clear about their desire to have the pool opened. In addition to wanting the pool open, he said, it there has been a steady belief in opinion that the pool should also remain at its current size. Listening to the people, Wall said, is the best way to handle this issue.
Almost surprisingly, of all the people to speak at the most recent City Council meeting, not everyone was against updating the facility and making the pool smaller.
“I am currently the recreation director for the town of Somerset, Mass, so I’m a little bit up to date with a lot of the current trends as far as pools, also splash pads, splash parks and the like,” said former Cranston Recreations Director Barry Fontaine. “I was part of the process, as I told the council before, 25 years ago when it was needed to have some work done on the pool back then. I was the pool director at the North Providence pool, which at the time was one of the state of the art pools in the state. When there’s problems about pools, people often call me to ask my opinion.”
Having taken a moment to clarify his credentials and his understanding of community pools, Fontaine went on to say that he had spoken to the mayor about the pool in the past, and recently, saying that the pool had to be downsized.
“It has to be downsized because of the configuration of the pool,” Fontaine explained. “It was built back in 1938 with WPA money. That’s historic. There’s nothing historic about the pool right now. If you want something to be historic it has to be replaced with parts of a historic nature. Back in 1938 they did not have a multi-cell filter that handled 986,000 gallons of water. That pool was fed through Blackmore Pond.”
City Council concerns
After the public had a chance to speak at Monday night’s meeting, the Council questioned Chief of Staff Anthony Moretti along with their concern that the planned meeting did not necessarily meet the legal obligation to hold a separate informational meeting with the City Council. Council President Jessica Marino said that the Council will be calling a special session for the same time an location “so that all council members can have a voice along with the public and administration” at the already scheduled meeting.
“I sent out an email a few days ago to let you know and share that the Mayor will be having a public informational meeting to discuss the Budlong Pool at 6:00 p.m. on September 6,” Chief of Staff Anthony Moretti said at the Council Meeting. “All are welcome to attend.”
“Just to be clear to the public,” Marino said. “When the administration sent out the email I received it, just as everyone else that is sitting in this room, as the general public that same day. If I knew in advance that this was going to take place I would have happily coordinated and had it present at the same time we were having a session as council, but that was not the case. We as council, as much as we generally appreciate the administration generally saying the council can be there, the law requires Council to hold a formal meeting in order for us to speak. Otherwise, we will be violating the law. That is not something we intend to do.”
Marino said that after hearing from a large number of members of the public regarding the pool she was greatly concerned given the changes in circumstance. Public records requested by everyday residents of the city had brought to light several pieces of evidence and information that had not been made public to the Council by the administration.
“It wasn’t the truth that was given to us by the administration,” Marino said of reports regarding the feasibility of repairing the pool. “The public got the truth by getting additional documents as to what the real status was for the pool. That is a change of circumstance for us. I know that the expectation as a councilmember, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this because it’s a reasonable expectation to have, is that when the administration comes forth to the council to have a dialogue and address concerns is that it’s an honest conversation and they’re coming prepared. What we have now heard, much to our surprise, is that was not necessarily the case.”
Documents surfaced thanks to the public at Monday’s meeting that showed several inconsistencies with information that was given to City Council by the administration regarding the pool, Marino said. She followed up by saying that she had clearly made a mistake in believing in the credibility presented to herself and the council that a proper inspection had been done and the pool couldn’t be repaired.
“I don’t blame the public for being outraged because I know I sure as heck share in that outrage,” Marino stated. “I would hope it’s a lesson going forward to be prepared and to be honest with the council and the public. I can tell you I will be exploring whatever options, and I invite all Council members to partake in that, available to us to get the true status of the Budlong Pool.”
She proceeded to ask one yes-or-no question of the administration. Has one engineer, other than one provided or hired by Saccoccio group done a hands on inspection on the pool.
“Refer to the report provided,” Moretti answered. “That is what you know and what we know.”
“So, you are taking the option of not answering,” Marino followed. “I asked a very simple question. Other than the Saccoccio group, has there ever been an engineer that has gone under this administration that has gone to the pool to inspect the pool.”
Moretti then answered yes, clarifying that an engineer had looked at the pool this year before saying he had not attended the meeting to be interrogated before stating that the meeting had been a fiasco all evening and accusing Marino of leading it.
“You’re not going to get direct responses from me,” Moretti said. “Please be toned to September 6.”
Marino then attempted to say that she, and assumedly the council, had every right to ask questions, but failed to finish her sentence before being interrupted by Moretti and forced to assert that she had not interrupted him before asking him to let her speak. She stated that she was representing the public, especially when they had acquired information that went against what was provided by the administration, and Moretti himself, in Council chambers.
Marino was not the only other member of the Council to find the night’s revelations to be appalling. With the friction between reports provided through public APRA requests not matching with the administration’s presented evidence, Moretti spoke of how the situation seemed to be going.
“It’s something how the information was just prepared by the public, but there’s already conclusions by members of the City Council on what they’re saying versus doing diligence to do proper vetting and there’s two sides to every story,” Moretti defended. “Most attorneys would know that. I just want to mention that. Please stay tuned to September 6. We’re happy to answer every single question. We’ll have all the people there.”
The conclusion so far
Despite repeated public presences by residents at Council meetings to support the historic value of the pool and the importance of doing what it takes to keep “keep Budlong long,” the administration, and Hopkins in his in his press release, said that faith will be put in professionals to guide the decision.
“For those who want to listen to qualified experts and understand the real facts on structural problems, legal compliance, and the programmatic and operational challenges we face with the outdated facility, they will better understand my position and plans for the future of the pool,” Hopkins said in his press release. “Elected officials who think that filling the pool and turning on ancient filtration equipment is the way to go, I strongly disagree. Just as we need to construct new schools to replace obsolete and unsafe buildings, we need a new operationally efficient pool to replace an 80+ year old structure that cannot be repaired to last generations.” stated Hopkins.
At the meeting, Hopkins said, the conceptual plans of what the new and safer facility will look like will be shared with the public. Now that funding is in place to build a more modern facility, he went on to say, the city will soon be seeking construction bids for a contractor for the pool house and to build a pool to serve Cranston another 50 plus years.
“I want to, again, thank the vast majority of residents of Cranston for their patience and understanding in the challenges we faced in bringing forward a new and better Budlong Pool.”