Saving Underwood: How a Big Push and Small Donations Preserved a Belmont Amenity

On a sunny autumn afternoon this week, a mom and a banker proudly stood before a fundraising message on a sandwich board to complete a small community miracle.

Sandrick Road’s Ellen Schreiber (the mom) and Robert “Bob” Mahoney (the banker) met in front of the Belmont Savings Bank in Belmont Center on Wednesday, Oct. 8, to place a final sticker to the chart showing the level of support for a fundraising appeal to build the new Underwood Pool.

“We Did It!” read the sticker.

In less than four weeks, the persistence of a master fundraiser and the welcomed kick-off contribution from the home-town bank resulted in $400,000 being raised from residents and businesses to allow a well-loved town amenity to continue at the corner of Concord Avenue and Cottage Street.

It wasn’t all that long ago when, for a few days in late August, it appeared the future of Belmont’s new Underwood Pool was far from certain.

After Woburn-based Seaver Construction withdrew its $3.8 million offer on Aug. 28 to construct the $4.16 million new two pool complex on the site of the historic 102-year-old “swimming pond,” the Underwood Pool Building Committee – the public group that coordinated the new facility’s final design and its detailed budget – was faced with one of two prospects to save the project.

One was to find an extra $400,000 in less than a month (the town was required to select a winning bid on Sept. 26) to match the $4.55 million offer from new low bidder, New England Builders and Contractors, Inc.,

The other, take its chances and resubmit the design to bid with the outside chance a contractor would take on the job at or below budget.

If a solution could not be found, it was likely the pool’s design would need to be greatly altered, or the entire process scrapped, a situation Committee President Anne Paulsen described as “grim news.”

The only certainty was that there wouldn’t be a summer swimming season at the Underwood for the first time since 1912. By the first week of September, the new Underwood Pool – which Town Meeting members and residents voted to support with $5.2 million in public funds – appeared to be hanging on a thread.

In the end, the committee decided to toss the dice and see if it could raise the nearly $400,000 in just under four weeks.

A pair of fortunate choices

As the project’s fate appeared sketchy, two fortunate decisions were made that would change the pool’s destiny. The first was selecting Schreiber to lead the fundraising task.

After a career as a software engineer, Schreiber was co-founder of the Boston Children’s Chorus, campaign manager for State Senator Will Brownsberger, and is now the finance director for a non-profit organization. Schreiber is best known around these parts as being the driving force with Diane Miller in rebuilding Joey’s Park adjacent to the Winn Brook School, raising more than $450,000 and recruiting more than 2,000 volunteers for a nine-day community build.

If you’re looking to get something done, Schreiber will be a good person to head it.

“Ellen is the perfect person for the job,” said Paulsen.

But even for someone who is accustomed to cultivating funds, the initial time limit and amount required was a challenge, said Schreiber.

“It was a lot of money to raise and we had a very short deadline. It was very intimidating, at first,” she said.

Schreiber and the committee caught a break early on when New England Builders agreed to keep its $4.55 million bid open for an additional month, until Oct. 30, providing some breathing room needed to raise the money.

The next fortunate decision was who Schreiber decided to visit first. Following the advice of Willie Sutton, Schreiber headed to where they keep the money. In Belmont, that’s 2 Leonard St., to talk to the man in charge of Belmont’s oldest and one of its largest institutions.

Since becoming President and CEO in June 2010, Bob Mahoney has transformed Belmont Savings Bank from a sleepy depositors-owned institution to a growing stock-issuing regional institution, doubling its asset size to $1.2 billion while expanding its retail operations into three nearby communities through its Star/Shaw’s supermarket branches.

Mahoney had read news reports about the pool committee losing its low bidder and the predicament it and the town found itself.

“I started thinking about it and even sent a note to the town’s Treasurer [Floyd Carman] with some ideas to bridge the gap,” said Mahoney.

Then in a moment of Kismet, Schreiber called Mahoney the next day.

“She said they were trying to pass the hat to raise $400,000, and she wanted to come over and talk to me,” Mahoney recalled.

In another coincidence, the board of the bank’s community and charitable entity, the Belmont Savings Bank Foundation, was meeting the next morning. When he brought up his conversation with Schreiber and the position the town was facing, many on the board began recalling their memories of visiting the pool. A senior member told how his father, who was a lifeguard, and mother, a swim team member met at the Underwood.

“That’s where I said, ‘I think we need to take a leadership role because [the pool] effects so many people.’ Then we started talking numbers,” said Mahoney.

How about $25,000? Somebody raised the figure to $100,000.

Going all in

As a poker player sitting on a good hand, Mahoney decided to go “all in” by upping the ante to $200,000.

“I said if we want to be serious about getting this done, we needed that amount because there was not enough time to raise $300,000,” said Mahoney.

But $200,000 is something that can be done,” said Mahoney, noting the foundation – which receives its funding from stock shares it holds bought at bank’s initial public offering in 2011 – could contribute the amount since the bank stock has risen significantly.

“It’s a way of sharing the bank’s success with the town,” he said.

In one fell swoop, the fundraiser goal facing Schreiber was cut in half.

“The bank came through for us,” said Schreiber. “From my experience, this amount was unprecedented, unheard of.”

Just as important, the bank’s contribution was seen by many donors as a vote of confidence in the Underwood project and the fundraising campaign.

“It got us half way there and so people immediately became excited. It was a powerful statement because [reaching the $400,000 goal] was now a possibility,” said Schreiber.

With Belmont Savings’ financial and business backing, Schreiber did what she does best; convincing people to join “something special.”

The money started rolling in from all directions, more than 400 donations ranging from $10 to $25,000.

“No one gives money to something they don’t care about and clearly they cared about the Underwood pool. People sent notes with their checks and told about their memories, how their children learned to swim there, how they love the fact that the town has a facility anyone can come to,” said Schreiber.

Within three weeks after the bank’s contribution, Schreiber and Mahoney were able to come together to put their stamp (or sticker) on the success of their collaboration.

“It turned out to be a perfect fit for the bank,” said Mahoney. “The donation is what we are about and what the town needed, all coming at right time and the right amount.”

Schreiber looked back at the effort preserving outdoor summer swimming in Belmont more succinctly.

“People just gave from their hearts.”

Breaking News: Pool Fundraiser Reaches Goal to Construct New Facility

The Underwood Pool Building Committee has reached its fundraising goal of $388,000 to meet the lowest bid to construct the new Underwood Pool complex, according to Ellen Schreiber, the committee member who headed the fundraising drive.

“This will allow the Underwood Pool Building Committee to award the construction contract and get started on the project ASAP, following the expected acceptance of the donations by the Belmont Board of Selectmen. The contractor has said that, if the winter weather cooperates, he will try to have the pool ready for next summer,” said Schreiber.

The fundraiser was started in September after a general contractor withdrew a bid within the Committee’s $4.2 million budget to construct a new two-pool complex to replace the current 102-year-old facility at Cottage Street and Concord Avenue. The next lowest bid came in at $4.6 million.

The fundraiser was given a considerable boost after the Belmont Savings Bank Foundation, the charitable offshoot of the Belmont Savings Bank, gave the committee a $200,000 grant in September.

The full story will be available after 1:30 p.m. 

Photo of the Day: Rising Community Tide for New Underwood Pool


In Jane Austen’s day two hundred years ago, you’d communicate with your neighbors or a friend by leaving a note on a fence post or in a nook of a stone wall.

And while today, there is high speed G4 internet and instant messaging available to keep us informed, the people raising $200,000 to meet the new low bid to construct the new Underwood Pool has decided to use the Austen-like “note” to the community at Belmont’s major intersections.

With just under four weeks remaining, the effort to preserve the 2015 summer swimming season by building the new Underwood has raised more than 80 percent of its goal.

Underwood Pool Fundraiser Hits $300K, But Still a Ways to Go

There is a saying that goes: It’s not how you start, but how you finish.

That’s how Ellen Schreiber views the fundraising effort she is heading for the Underwood Pool Building Committee to secure $200,000 from residents and businesses in just under five weeks that will allow construction to begin on a new Underwood Pool.

In just over a fortnight, the campaign – which began after the low bidding construction company set to build the $4.16 million project backed out at the last minute leaving the town nearly $400,000 short of the new low bid of $4.55 million – has raised nearly three-quarters of the goal, in large part to a $200,000 matching grant from the Belmont Savings Bank Foundation to go along with nearly $100,000 in contributions large and small, Schreiber told the Belmontonian.

But Schreiber, a veteran campaigner who co-led the major town-wide undertaking to build a new Joey’s Park adjacent to the Winn Brook Elementary School, is far from complacent. In a question and answer with the Belmontonian, Schreiber said she is gearing up for a sustained final push to secure the needed funding to replace the existing 102-year-old structure and secure a summer swimming season in 2015.


Belmontonian: You wrote in an recent email that in the first week of the fundraising effort for the new Underwood Pool fundraising raised $93,000, just under half of what needs to be raised to meet the $400,000 goal. Were you expecting such as hopeful response to building the new pool complex?

Schreiber: I am very excited by the response of the Belmont community to the fundraising effort for the New Underwood Pool. I have never seen donations come in so quickly for a fundraising project of this size. I think it shows how much Belmont residents care about the pool. At this point, including the Belmont Savings Bank Foundation matching grant, we’ve crossed the $300,000 threshold, but there is still a lot of money to raise.

Belmontonian: Could you break down in percentage between large – $1,000 and greater – and the smaller donations? What is the total number of donators? How many businesses have donated?

Schreiber: We have received pledges and checks from more than 250 Belmont residents. From my fundraising experience, the donation amounts seem to be higher than typical. I think people understand the fundraising goal and short timeframe and have responded by doing everything they can to help meet the goal. You couldn’t raise this amount of money without some large donations plus many smaller donations, and we’ve gotten a lot of both.

Belmontonian: There has been a great initial response from residents and businesses. How do you keep up the enthusiasm so the goal can be reached by the Oct. 30 deadline?

Schreiber: Communication! It is very important to keep people in the loop. The closer we get, the more enthusiasm we all have. So far, the response has been incredible, but we’re not done yet. We want to begin building the pool while we still have great weather. So for people who are considering a donation, sooner is better.

Belmontonian: How will you be reaching out to the community for funds?

Schreiber: We are trying every way we can to reach Belmont residents and let them know about the fundraising campaign. This really is a viral campaign – some people are sending emails to their friends, some are sending letters, some are talking it up. And of course, we’re trying to get the word out through the press. It seems to me that the word is out, based on the response we’ve been getting.

Belmontonian: Is it more efficient to court businesses and high-income individuals to raise the remaining funds or can you meet the goal with smaller contributions?

Schreiber: I think it is important to give everyone the opportunity to make a difference. You can’t raise money for a project like this if there is not widespread community support, and that is clearly demonstrated by the response – both in numbers of donors and size of donations. This pool belongs to everyone in Belmont; we all have a crucial role to play.

It’s great to have the opportunity to help our community replace a treasured Belmont gathering place. Clearly, there is broad support for the pool, including young families and empty nesters, homeowners who are new to Belmont and those who grew up here, residents who use the pool and those who don’t.

The pool means so much to me – I’ve watched my kids grow up there. And I spoke with a donor yesterday whose parents first met at the Underwood Pool and his now grown children spent lots of time there. The pool brings us together and builds community for kids and adults, and it helps make Belmont the town we love.

One more thing; please visit to donate online or to follow instructions for donating by check.

Belmont Savings: Six Weeks to Show Support for ‘Beloved’ Piece of Belmont

Belmont Savings Bank Foundation announced on Thursday, Sept. 11 that it will match dollar for dollar contributions to the Underwood Pool project up to $200,000. Specifically, the bank foundation has committed to contributing $200,000 which – if matched – would fully fund the remaining $400,000 needed to complete the project.

Recently, plans to rebuild Belmont’s Underwood Pool stalled after the winning bidder dropped out, potentially leaving the Belmont community without a public swimming area next summer.

“As a child, I used the pool and, subsequently, my children did as well, which is why I take pride in announcing this matching grant through our Foundation,” said Robert Morrissey, chairman of the board of directors of Belmont Savings Bank as well as the Belmont Savings Bank Foundation.

“With six weeks to go until the October deadline, it is imperative our community shows its support for this beloved piece of Belmont’s history.”

The Underwood Pool was originally constructed in 1912, and is believed to be the first public outdoor pool in the United States. Belmont had approved debt exclusion for a new pool to be built, with the grand opening originally scheduled for June 2015.

“We are grateful to our partners at Belmont Savings Bank, who understand how much Belmont residents care about the Underwood Pool, and have demonstrated a true commitment to making a positive difference in the community,” said Ellen Schreiber, who is helping lead the campaign.

“We urge businesses and individuals alike to join Belmont Savings Bank in donating by Oct. 31.”

Under the current circumstances, the Underwood Pool Building Committee was faced with redesigning and rebidding the project, in effect cancelling the pool’s summer 2015 season. The involvement of the Belmont Savings Bank Foundation enables supporters to raise the necessary funds in order to accept the current lowest bid before the upcoming October deadline.

“Supporting the rebuilding of Underwood Pool, the oldest municipal pool in the country, is one of those rare opportunities to truly help the community, and improve the quality of life for Belmont citizens,” said Bob Mahoney, president and CEO of Belmont Savings Bank.

“I am thrilled that our Foundation agreed to support the Underwood Pool, which has long been a touchstone in our town.”

Checks can be dropped off at each Belmont Savings branch. Checks should be payable to “Winn Brook PTA for the Underwood Pool” which serves as the non-profit (501c3) fiscal agent for Belmont Partners in Play.

Belmont Partners in Play is coordinating the fundraising campaign, with the total amount used exclusively for the new pool. Each donation is tax-deductible.

Checks can also be mailed to Ellen Schreiber, 49 Sandrick Road, Belmont, MA 02478.

If you have any questions, please contact Ellen at or 617-290-6216.

To donate online, please visit

New Underwood Pool Out to Bid Again, With Fingers Crossed

Belmont Board of Selectman Chair Andy Rojas was not happy.

At a joint meeting Wednesday morning, Sept. 3, of the Selectmen and the Underwood Pool Building Committee – the citizens group organized last year to manage the design and development of a $5.2 million pool complex to replace the historic 102-year-old Underwood Pool – Rojas and his colleagues heard that due to the dubious last-minute withdrawal of the construction firm which submitted a below budget bid and other auxiliary issues, the budget for the voter-approved two-pool facility is currently $400,000 short of the new “low” bid.

“We weren’t expecting this,” said Adam Dash, vice chair of the Building Committee. “We had a bidder who meets our estimates and you think you’re done. Then the guy backs out.”

Because of the failure to secure a bid within the building committee’s $4.16 million construction budget and since the second round of bidding will occur, at the earliest, early in the New Year, any chance of Belmont residents wading into a new pool in the summer of 2015 is all but dead.

“I’m sorry to say that we will not have a pool next year,” said Anne Paulsen, chair of the Building Committee.

Conversations with the Belmont Health Department earlier this year said safety variances for the existing century-old Underwood Pool were approved by the town and OK’d by the state on the assumption a replacement facility would be up and running in 2015.

In an attempt to salvage the pool, the committee is moving to put the project – in a slightly different arrangement to satisfy state legal requirements – back out to bid for a second round in January. They will have their fingers crossed a new crop of builders will be eager to take the job within the budget.

“It’s a big bet, and I’m opposed to casinos,” said Paulsen.

“But we have been put into a corner, and we’re hoping to get out of the corner with some redesign and some assistance from the Board of Selectmen,” she said Tuesday night, Sept. 2 as the building committee met to prep for the joint meeting.

As for Rojas, he did not mince words placing a good proportion of the blame for this developmental “fail” square on the shoulders of the pool’s architect, Thomas Scarlata, principal at Bargmann Hendrie + Archetype, and the building committee’s project manager, Deborah Marai of Pinck & Co.

“There were only two people that are trained to have the experience necessary to [create a plan]; Scarlata and Pinck,” said Rojas, pointing specifically at the amount allocated to contingency costs – an amount in a project’s budget set aside to account for errors and omissions in the plans and to pay for unknown conditions such as an overheated market – as the prime culprit in the failure to secure a builder.

“I thought the contingency was way low, and if the contingency were higher, quite frankly, we’d be building a pool right now,” said Rojas, saying the pair’s financial assumptions were “well-below industry standards.”

According to committee documents, the construction contingency was $250,000 or about six percent of the total construction cost.

“Scarlata swore up and down that his contingency was high enough. I have no confidence in them anymore,” said Rojas.

“I hate to be correct on things like this,” Rojas said after the meeting. He said his experience, as a landscape architect, with state and federal projects of a similar size, requires 10 to 15 percent contingency “because they know there is a volatility in the bid environment.”

“[Scarlata] miscalculated the project. It was that simple. Just think if we had $600,000 in reserve. We would not be here,” said Rojas.

Yet Pinck’s Marai told the building committee Tuesday night the cost estimates, performed by two independent and veteran estimators, “were solid.”

In addition, the project did attract the interest of a bidder who was willing to work with the town’s numbers and two others “were really close,” said Marai.

Paulsen did express support for BH+A and Pinck, saying that while there are some who are disappointed with the contingency amount, “they have not said they haven’t done great work on this project.”

“We discussed the contingency with them ahead of time, and they thought they were quite responsible,” she said.

Just swimmingly until last week

Just a month earlier, it appeared to the Building Committee that the new municipal pool was proceeding swimmingly as Seaver Construction placed a bid of $3.84 million, well within the budget. And well below the two nearest bids, including one from New England Builders and Contractors, Inc. at $4.55 million.

Then within the past fortnight, the Woburn-based contractor suddenly withdrew its bid, stating it had made an error in its calculations, saying it had inadvertently left a “0” off – using $17,500 instead of $175,000 – for winterizing the site.

While correcting the mistake would allow Seaver to remain under budget, it told town officials that it would withdraw its bid rather than lower their profit margin.

Several in attendance Wednesday viewed Seaver’s claim as dubious, at best; the assumption is the company believed it was undercutting its profit margin severely after viewing the other bids that came in at approximately $4.6 million.

By Tuesday, Sept. 2, as the Building Committee gathered at Town Hall to prep for its meeting with the Selectmen, Paulsen informed the committee that she was “sorry we’re here with such grim news.”

The committee heard that the possibility of asking the November Special Town Meeting to approve an appropriation to make up the funding difference as well as creating a new set of design changes and calculations “is not realistic due to the tight time frame,” said Pinck’s Marai.

Marai presented three options to move forward; the committee rejected one – abandon the project and return the money to the town and CPA – out of hand.

The option to reduce the cost of the pool by the $400,000 gap was deemed so draconian that it would render the pool a shadow of the town resident’s expectation.

“The workarounds are just not worth it,” said Committee member Joel Mooney pointing out that even making significant cuts would result in added fees for new designs and consulting expenses.

The committee’s preferred alternative is to take a second bite of the apple by rejecting the current suitors, make just enough changes to the pool’s design to satisfy the state regulations requiring a second bid to be significantly different than the first and send the project out once again.

One major change being floated by Mooney is altering the number of pools from two to one, saving on pumps and filtration systems.

“But that is not a fait accompli,” said Paulsen, saying that is just a suggestion on reaching the state’s benchmark.

There is some belief that a January rebid will be more successful in ferreting out contractors who will be eager to work within a budget, said Marai. But, as stated at Tuesday’s meeting, the bidding process is unpredictable at the best of times.

“It could have been that the estimates were off because they weren’t anticipating a hot market or it’s just a bad time to bid. That’s the trouble. Once you go back out, you can’t anticipate what’s going to happen even if you make changes,” said Peter Castinino, director of the Department of Public Works.

“Darn this improved economy,” said Dash.

Selectman Mark Paolillo, who did not want to see the pool reduced in size and scope, suggested a public/private partnership be seriously explored to reduce the difference.

On Wednesday, the Selectmen were also eager to bring a wildcard into the mix, Town Meeting. The selectmen want the building committee to present a report at November’s Special Town Meeting and possibly to the general public this fall that includes scenario on changes, from minor alterations, significant cost reductions, and some which lie in the middle.

“If there are changes to the design, it must go to Town Meeting since they approved a specific design,” said Selectman Sami Baghdady.

As of now, the town can accept either of the two remaining bids until Sept. 26.

Belmont Town Administrator David Kale quipped that the town would welcome any resident making a grant for $400,000 to the project before the deadline.



Officials Ponder Future of New Underwood Pool

What now?

After the sudden withdrawal on Aug. 28 of the (only) low bidder to construct the $5.2 million new Underwood Pools complex, town officials are scrambling to discover a way to keep the project “on time and budget” to allow the facility to open for the 2015 summer recreation season.

That process begins on Tuesday, Sept. 2 at 7 p.m. when the Underwood Pool Building Committee – the public group that coordinated the new facility’s final design and its detailed budget – will meet to discuss the current lay of the land and the series of options. The committee will bring their suggestions to the Belmont Board of Selectmen on Wednesday, Sept. 3 at 8 a.m.

The committee “would like to review the options going forward with the Town Administrator [David Kale] and the Board of Selectmen,” said Committee member Adam Dash in a press release issued last week.

Under the Building Committee’s tentative timeline, construction on the two-pool complex was scheduled to begin in September with completion by the first day of summer 2015, replacing the 102-year-old existing historic structure that closed for the final time on Monday, Sept. 1.

Woburn-based Seaver Construction was the only of the five bidders that came in under the committee’s $4.16 million construction budget. Soon after submitting its $3.84 million plan, the construction firm withdrew its offer claiming it made a “clerical error” in determining their cost in completing the project. Belmont officials noted that despite the miscalculation, Seaver would have stayed within the Building Committee’s budget.

The next closest proffer to build the complex came from New England Builders and Contractors, Inc. at $4.55 million.

While both committee members and town officials are keeping their opinions close to their vests before the two public meetings, the new Underwood Pool appears to be impacted by a dramatic shift in the demand for the same contractors who can build Belmont’s pools. In the past year, there has been a boom in private-sector building throughout Boston, according to a May 12, 2014 article in

With billions of dollars in the pipeline in greater metropolitan Boston – from Boston’s waterfront to Watertown’s Assembly Square – the demand for general contractors has skyrocketed, and so have their fees. Nor does it appear that this trend will subside anytime soon.

“As for the private marketplace, Mark Warren, senior vice president and managing director of WSP’s Building Systems, believes there is enough work throughout the metro region for years to come.

“Everyone says you are going to saturate the market at some point,” he says. “But there is research showing that existing space is being consumed and that more is needed.”