Underwood Pool Funding Surplus To Keep Patrons In The Shade


After all had been set and done, the Underwood Pool Building Committee which led the private/public funding partnership to build the $5.3 million pool facility at Cottage Street and Concord Avenue in 2015 discovered a bit of change in the back of the couch.

With all the bills paid, a $68,400 surplus was found floating in the committee’s bank account. That bit of remaining cash will be used to help patrons to remain in the shade.

Committee representatives, who literally handed the check to Town Treasurer Floyd Carman during last week’s meeting of the Board of Selectmen on May 21, said the extra funds will be used to replace, repair and add the large “umbrellas” that dot the pool’s deck and replace plants and flowers surrounding the facility.

“[The umbrellas and plantings] are quite expensive. This account will free [the pool] from seeking money from the capital budget or the recreation department,” said Building Committee Chair Anne Paulsen.

Picking Up the Check: Pool Committee Hands $411K to Town for Underwood

Just three-and-a-half weeks ago, Anne Paulsen said she “went home crying” after a meeting with the Board of Selectmen when it appeared the new Underwood Pool may not be built. The board had challenged the pool’s Building Committee to find $400,000 in just over a month or possibly see the entire projected shelved due to a sudden shortfall in funds.

“It was fairly depressing,” said Paulsen, chair of the Underwood Pool Building Committee.

Boy, how four hundred grand can change Paulsen’s demeanor.

On Tuesday, Oct. 15, the Underwood Pool Building Committee – the volunteer group that oversees the design and construction of the new two pool complex to replace the historic 102-year-old facility – presented the Belmont Board of Selectmen $411,000 which was raised to bridge a funding gap which occurred when in late August a low bidder for the $4.1 million construction job suddenly dropped out leaving the committee needing to bridge a $388,000 breach to the next low bid.

Paulsen also announced that just before the meeting, the committee signed a letter of intent with New England Builders & Contractors Inc. of Methuen, the project’s new contractor.

If there is not a lot of snow this year, New England Builders believe it can save most of the 2015 summer swimming season, said Paulsen.


Unlike the previous meeting with the Selectmen – where the board voiced its frustration at the lack of an “adequate” contingency amount in the pool’s budget – this will a day for happy as the town celebrated the achievement of raising the money in just over 25 days through the effort of residents with a boost from the town’s largest business.

Paulsen praised the efforts of fellow committee member Ellen Schreiber, who led the public fundraising effort, and former Belmont selectman Ralph Jones who, with his family, donated “a significant” amount to the cause in addition to flushing out donors.

Special acknowledgement was directed to the Belmont Savings Bank Foundation – the charitable wing of the Belmont Savings Bank – and the bank’s CEO and President Robert Mahoney who stepped in quickly to donate a $200,000 matching grant “that took what felt like an intimidating, possibly hopeless task and turned it into an exciting challenge,” said Schreiber.

“I had a sense that this was an important project … that it wasn’t just a physical asset but an emotional one,” Mahoney said.

“These were our three pieces of good luck,” said Paulsen.

Schreiber also acknowledged the town’s residents, from lifelong citizens to new families in Belmont for just a few years, who donated every amount from $10 to $25,000.

“People don’t give money for something they don’t care about,” noted Schreiber, who said in her years of fundraising, “I have never seen so much come in so quickly.”

Additional donations over the approximately $390,000 needed to fill the gap continue to come in, the money being placed in the project contingency fund.

“Congratulations to all of you. It was a daunting task at first,” said Selectman Chair Andy Rojas, thanking Mahoney for the bank’s challenge. “We’re happy to see the pool move forward and not miss a step.”

Belmont Savings Matching Grant Could Help Save Underwood Pool

There just might be outdoor swimming next summer in Belmont after all.

The Belmont Savings Bank Foundation, the community grant-making wing of Belmont Savings Bank, announced Thursday, Sept. 11 that it will match, dollar-for-dollar, up to $200,000 in private donations raised towards building a new Underwood Pool.

The potential $400,000 will allow the Underwood Building Committee to accept the current low bid of $4.55 million from Methuen-based New England Builders and Contractors to erect the new pool complex on the site of the current historic 102-year-old facility at Concord Avenue and Cottage Street.

“The bank understands how much Belmont residents care about the Underwood Pool, and once again they are partnering with us to make a positive difference in the community,” said Ellen Schreiber, secretary of the Underwood Pool Building Committee.

The future of the new two-pool facility had been in question since late August when the initial low bidder Seaver Construction of Woburn, abruptly withdrew its $3.84 million offer on the project that the Building Committee has budgeted at $4.16 million.

As a result of the Foundation’s challenge, the Building Committee is launching a fundraising campaign to raise $200,000 “from large donors as well as from the grassroots to complete the funding for the New Underwood Pool project,” said Schreiber, who has set up a donation website, www.underwoodpool.com

All donations are tax-deductible – the committee will be working with Belmont’s Partners in Play and the Winn Brook PTO – and is restricted for the pool project.

In a separate announcement, New England Builders and Contractors has agreed to extend until Oct. 31 signing a contract with the committee to build a new facility. The current deadline to award the work is Sept. 26. The firm also said it would build through the winter and attempt to have the structure open for the 2015 recreation season beginning the final week in June.

As a result, “[w]e need to raise $388,000 in donations as a public-private partnership … by October 31,” said Schreiber.

“The timeline is aggressive, but the grant from the Belmont Savings Bank Foundation really makes it possible,” she said.

“As a donor, it is very exciting to know that every dollar you give is being doubled. And this is a true matching grant – for every dollar we raise, the foundation will give us a dollar, up to $200,000. So we encourage people to help complete the funding for the Underwood Pool,” said Schreiber, who is well-known for help leading a massive community effort to build the new Joey’s Park adjacent to Winn Brook Elementary on Cross Street that opened in October of last year.

Those interested in making a large donation can contact Ellen Schreiber at ellensch@verizon.net or 617-290-6216. Make donations of any size by check or online at www.UnderwoodPool.com.

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 ENR.com

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.”