Rec News: Underwood Pool To Open At 100% With Unlimited Residential Passes; Outdoor Movies At Town Field After July 4th

Photo: The Underwood Pool from 2019

Responding to the re-opening of public places as state COVID-19 restricts are being pulled back, the Belmont Recreation Commission unanimously voted on Thursday, June 10 to open the Underwood Pool to 100 percent capacity on Wednesday, June 23 with an unlimited number of family and individual passes (aka tags) for residents seeking to cool off this summer.

Residents interested in applying for a pass or more should go to the Recreation Department webpage.

Due to the lifting of the restrictions, patrons will no longer need to pre-register to attend the pool at specific two-hour blocks of time. According to Rec Department Director and Assistant Town Manager Jon Marshall, two green areas will be sectioned off and have spaces marked off “for people who are a little less comfortable can go to.”

As of Friday, June 11, any resident wanting a pass will receive one with the department limiting the number of non-residential passes to those on the waiting list.

So far this season, the Belmont Rec Department has issued 598 family, 104 individual and 62 senior passes – a total of 2,600 people – as the town had prepared to open the pool at 50 percent of capacity. It also has 110 non-residents on a waiting list, according to Brandon Fitts, rec department assistant director. In 2019, the town issued 1,050 tags.

Residents who purchased tags in the belief the pool would be at 50 percent and wish to cancel their passes will only have until June 21 to receive a full refund. Passes will also be sold at a reduced rate later in the season. The cost of passes are $305 for families; $110 for individuals and $50 for seniors.

Films on the Field

At Monday’s meeting, Fitts also announced a free summer-long movie series sponsored by the Rec Department and the Belmont Council of Aging. Using a generous donation from a Belmont couple, the Rec Department has purchased a projector/sound system and screen which will be set up at the Town Field baseball diamond on Thursday evenings.

“We worked really hard with a number of town departments to make this all a reality,” said Fitts, saying the department will screen seven family friendly movies. The events will take place from 6:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. running from July 8 to August 19.

It will be an opportunity for residents to come to the field and bring a picnic dinner [Remember: Town Field is a Carry In, Carry Out play area so bring a bag to remove any refuse]. The town will also hire a group to bring games, set up basketball hoops and “Gaga ball” pits for kids to play until the film begins at 8 p.m. Residents will also be able to use the restroom facilities at the adjacent Beech Street Center. One commissioner suggested “off the record” bringing food trucks to add some culinary choices to the night.

Fitts also said since the sound system will be owned by the Rec Department, there are opportunities to use the equipment for other events around town such as having music at the Underwood Pool, special events, and a possible “Rock the Rink” skating party at the “Skip” in which skaters circle the ice as high school bands perform.

The movies for this summer are the live version of “Aladdin,” the “Parent Trap” with Lindsay Lohan, “The Secret Life of Pets,” “Honey I Shrunk the Kids,” “Finding Nemo” and the movie version of “Grease.”

‘We Have A Summer!’ Rec Comm OKs Opening Underwood Pool For Summer Season June 23

Photo: Throwback Thursday, the Underwood Pool in 2019.

We have a summer! Let’s go!” said an excited Brandon Fitts, assistant director of Recreation, after the Recreation Commission voted unanimously to approve Belmont Recreation’s blueprint to open the Underwood Pool for a summer season at the Commission’s Wednesday, March 24 meeting.

The summer pool season will run from June 23 to the first of September according to Fitts, who led the plan for reopening the Underwood.

Residents can go to the Rec Department’s web page for more basic information on the coming swimming season beginning Monday, March 29, according to Fitts.

The opening comes after the pool was closed for the 2020 season due to the emergence of the coronavirus and uncertainties due to strict limits on participation – at the time 25 percent of capacity – and the town being uncertain it could recoup the expenses of operation at less than capacity.

And while there remains a cap on how many patrons will be able to come onto the site, it will be sufficient – even in a worst-case scenario – to meet its targeted break-even point of $290,000, said Fitts.

The start date for obtaining memberships remains up in the air as Fitts said the department needs to resolve some software issues with the registration system and will need to ramp up the office for what is traditionally a very busy first week of selling swimming passes.

Because there will be a smaller number of passes than years past, Belmont residents will have about a month when they can purchase family and individual passes before sales are open to non-residents beginning June 1.

Now under the state’s latest reopening plan (Phase 4, Step 1), pools can open for business at 50 percent capacity; in Belmont that would be 165 participants at any one time. Fitts told the commissioners Belmont Recreation is hopeful the state will increase the percentage this summer to 65 percent which would allow 215 people at the pool.

In the 50 percent capacity protocol, the town will sell 520 family passes and 107 individual passes while under 65 percent capacity, 625 family passes, and 125 individual passes sold.

During the season, residents will have the opportunity to reserve two 2-hour “blocks” per week, but if there are blocks with openings, residents can “theoretically could access [the pool] more than two ties a week, you’re just guaranteed it,” said Fitts.

On the safety front, Jon Marshall, assistant Town Administrator and director of the Recreation Department told the commissioners his department will use the same attendance tracking system at the pool as they had with public skaters at the town’s rink this winter.

On arrival at the pool, swimmers will sign a document verifying they do not have COVID symptoms and haven’t been in contact with anyone infected. If there is a reported positive case at the pool, everyone who was in the same block of time would be contacted, said Marshall, noting that there were no COVID-related incidents at the rink.

“I talk all the time with Diane [Ekman] and Wes [Chin] of the Health Department and fill them in … so certainly they’re aware of everything and we follow their guidance,” said Fitts.

The fee schedule is set as:

Resident Season Passes

  • Family membership: $305
  • Individual: $110

Resident Day Passes

  • Adult: $15
  • Child: $10

Nonresident Day Passes

  • Adult: $25
  • Child: $20

Nonresident Season Passes

  • Family membership: $610
  • Individual: $220

Facing Too Many Obstacles, Town Shuts Down Underwood Pool For Summer

Photo: Underwood Pool will be closed this summer

A host of health, operational and financial risks proved overwhelming as the Select Board voted unanimously not to open the outdoor Underwood Pool for the summer season at the Board’s Monday, May 18 remote meeting.

“It’s the latest victim of COVID-19,” said Select Board Chair Roy Epstein referring to the novel coronavirus that has created so much uncertainty in that it has led to the cancellation or delay of many annual local events – the Memorial Day parade and the town election just to name two.

Not that the Select Board’s unanimous decision was a shock as the Recreation Commission revealed the same litany of issues thwarting the pool’s opening back in April.

The leading issue facing the Recreation Department was keeping patrons safe from the virus. Social distancing requirements – keeping patrons six-feet from each other – and other safety issues would limit the number of residents in the pool to 70, a quarter of a normal summer attendance.

“I don’t see how you can keep kids six-feet apart running around the pool,” said Select Board member Adam Dash, forcing lifeguards to spend more time on social distancing than water safety.

Another obstacle is the extensive prep work required to open the pool. The pool takes six weeks of lead time to get it up and running and that pre-work would need to begin by next week.

There is also a potential problem of having the manpower to get the job done. The town uses a team of low-cost prisoners from Middlesex County to do much of the physical preparation such as painting, repairs and landscaping. Currently, that option could be hard to come by. And the South Shore firm the town contracts to start and maintain the pools pumps have laid off most of their employees.

The biggest hurdle facing the Rec Department was how the pool was going to break even financially. In the memo to the Select Board, the Recreation Department was able to cobble together an abbreviated nine-week season starting July 1 that could recover cost. But that model would require capping the number of bathers at any time to 50 with a $14 admission fee to spend a predetermined 1 hour and 45 minutes at the pool.

Recreation Commission Chair Anthony Ferrante said the Recreation Department came up with its model based on a real community demand for opening the pool which would “be a really good morale boost for the community.”

But as Dash noted, the scheme doesn’t recognize rainy or cold days or if people will be comfortable spending time in a fenced-in area while COVID-19 remains active and deadly.

“There is a scenario that’s relatively narrow where [the pool] makes money or breaks even but many more scenarios where it goes very badly financially,” said Dash.

“I think there’s a lot of risk in opening the pool financially or health wise,” said Patrice Garvin, Belmont’s town administrator.

Recreation To Refund Residents As Pool Season Unlikely, Summer Programs ‘In Holding Pattern’

Photo: Lifeguard Elizabeth Levy, 17, watching over the wadding pool at the Underwood Pool on Labor Day, Sept. 7, 2015.

Registration for Belmont Recreation Department’s summer programs were going like gangbusters on the first of March as residents signed up their kids for the popular S.K.I.P. (Summer Kids Interested in Playing) Program and 170 pool passes had already been requested.

Then on Tuesday, March 10 “everything kind of went sideways,” said Jon Marshall, recreation department director and assistant town administrator speaking to the Recreation Commission via Zoom on Thursday, April 23.

That day Gov. Charlie Baker declared a state of emergency due to the spreading COVID-19 pandemic in Massachusetts. And by the end of that week, the registrations and requests “all came to a screeching halt,” said Marshall.

Since then, the Recreation Department – which has already canceled all its spring programs and classes – had been looking to some way to salvage the summer activities including the popular Underwood Pool season.

Brandon Fitts, the assistant recreation director, had put together a hopeful plan looking at July 1 as the best date for the pool season to open. But that would require the town to give the department an OK to proceed by the first week of May as it requires two months in preparation to open the pool. It’s anticipated Baker will be extending the stay-in-place order by at least two weeks to mid-May.

Even if the facility opens, the big question, according to Select Board’s Adam Dash, is how to implement social distancing onto the swimmers and bathers in both the pool area but also the changing rooms, bathrooms, the grounds, and the admission’s area. Fitts said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending pools have a 25 percent swimmers/bather limit of the facility’s maximum, which at Belmont’s 325 max would be 82 people.

“From a public health point of view, I think this is a nightmare waiting to happen,” said Commissioner Kathryn Jones. “You’re never going to keep [young adults] six feet away from each other all the time.

Then there is the real question if anyone will want to come to the pool during a pandemic. “If we do open, we will have fewer people there. It’s either going to be from the COVID-19 situation or it’s just going to be the economics of it. I think we’d be lucky to have somewhere around 25 percent of what we did last year … it’s certainly a big impact,” said Marshall.

But the biggest obstacle facing opening the season is cost. While the pool has been a large revenue generator for the town, due to a later date opening and forced limitation on the number of people at the facility, the latest projection is the pool will be running a $171,000 deficit.

“Obviously the concern is this going to just be a big money lost if we open it. Not to say that is the be-all and end-all but we do have to take that into account,” said Dash, who said if the town is willing to open the pool at a deficit, that cost will come from another service or department.

While the pool season looks ever unlikely to occur, the SKIP program and other summer Rec Department events are currently “in a holding pattern,” according to Marshall. “I think if we do offer programs, they’re going to have to be different than the size and what they were going to be,” he said.

For example, the SKIP program takes in 80 children a session which requires the use of the gymnasium and the kitchen at the Wellington Elementary School. If there are changes due to social distancing or the lack of needed space, “we will need to change the fee structure. That’s only fair,” he said.

The Rec Department is now determining how it will refund the $125,000 it has taken in for SKIP registration and pool passes. “People are asking for them and I don’t want to hold that money out,” said Marshall.

With all the issues, Rec Commission members were nearly unanimous in feeling that a pool opening is simply not feasible in 2020. Chairman Anthony Ferrante said he would defer a vote on a recommendation to the Select Board until the commissions next meeting in May, “the governor may very well make [a decision] for us.”

Underwood Pool Patrons: It’ll Be Crowded This Weekend, So Here’s Some Rules To Know

Photo: Open for the crowds

With the expected weather forecast for this weekend calling for record heat, the Belmont Recreation Department is anticipating a high volume of users at the Underwood Pool at the corner of Cottage and Concord.

Following state code, the pool may not exceed 275 swimmers in the water at any given time. In the event that maximum capacity is reached, the lifeguards will need to rotate groups in and out of the water in 15-minute intervals to ensure compliance with the law. 

In addition, if the pool reaches capacity, the pool staff may need to limit the sale of single entry day passes.  

The department also wants to remind patrons of some key rules to know so to enjoy this town resource: 

  • Showers: A cleansing shower is required before entering the pool. Please apply sunscreen 30 minutes before entering the pool.  Sunscreen applied right before entry will wash off and impact water quality.  
  • Storm Related Closing: Upon hearing thunder or observing lightning, the pool will be closed immediately.  The pool will remain closed for one hour after the last sighting of lightning or last sounds of thunder.  
  • Membership Tags: As a reminder, membership tags are required for entry to the pool. If you do not have tags, you must show ID to the front desk staff to gain entry.  

Underwood Pool Opens Saturday, June 23, Blasting Off The Summer Swim Season

Photo: Underwood Pool

Summer rockets Saturday, June 23, as the Underwood Pool’s season begins with the Belmont Recreation Department’s  9th annual Summer Blast Off at the pool at the corner of Concord Avenue and Cottage Street.

Sponsored by Belmont Youth Activities and D.A.R.E. Inc., there will be games and music, a dunk tank, music, free hot dogs and chips, and swimming and splash about from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. A membership or day pass is required for entry.

The Underwood Pool is open from June 23 to Sept. 3.

The pool is open during the peak season to Aug. 17 from Monday to Thursday, noon to 8 p.m.; Friday, Saturday, Sunday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. The late-season runs from Aug. 18 to Sept. 3 with the pool open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.

Information on fees and schedules can be found at the Belmont Recreation Department web page.

Labor Day Washout: Rain/Wind on Final Day of Underwood Pool Season

Photo: Underwood Pool

It’s looking like it will be a wet end of what had been a gloriously hot and sunny swimming season at the Underwood Pool as the remnants of a hurricane that struck Florida on Thursday wanders its way to the region. 

The National Weather Service has already issued a hazardous weather outlook for Belmont and most of lower New England beginning Sunday night and lasting into Tuesday. While the track and intensity of the now Tropical Storm Hermine remain a question mark for the area, expect rain and gusty winds for Monday and into Tuesday. 

The pool is scheduled to be open this holiday weekend from 10 a.m. to 7:15 p.m. and on its final day, Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 5 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. 

No word from staff at the pool or the Recreation Department whether the pool will open for a final, rainy day. But stay tuned to the Belmontonian for updates.

Pool Memberships Stable for Residents, Increases for Out-of-Towers

Photo: Underwood Pool, Belmont. 

Preparing for the first full season of the still “new” Underwood Pool in the summer of 2016, members of the Recreation Commission told the Board of Selectmen Monday night, Dec. 15, that visitor season and daily passes will see significant increases as the town prepares for a deluge of swimmers beginning in June.

“Last year was a like a shakeout cruise,” said Recreation Commission Chair David Kane of the one month the pools were open in August. “We were just trying to understand what we need to do to be enjoyable.” 

This coming year will be “more holistic,” said Kane, which includes the new price tag on using the facility.

While nearly all Belmont residents will not see an increase in tag prices for the 2016 swimming season, Kane said non-residents will feel the “bite” of a big increase for the pleasure of frolicking in Belmont’s new pools.

According to Kane, prices for Belmont residents will be:

  • Family season pass (two adults, up to four children): $225 before June 30/$250 after July 1.
  • Adult season pass: $150
  • Child season pass: $110
  • Day pass/adult: $10
  • Day pass/child: $5

For non-Belmont residents, prices will be:

  • Family season pass (two adults, up to four children): $375
  • Adult season pass: $225
  • Child season pass: $175
  • Day pass/adult: $20

In comparison, two years ago the non-resident family pass was $225 and a year ago $265. 

“It is high,” said Kane of the new costs, but noting the commission had received “some complaints of overcrowding on certain days” and there is some hope that the new price structure will deter some non-residents swimmers from coming.

Staff members will ask for identification to determine residency. 

In addition, there will be a 25 percent military discount while seniors will no longer have the option of a lifetime charge of $50 a year. 

When asked if Belmont should place a hard cap limit on the number of non-residents, commission member Ann Bere – who conducted a review of pricing patterns in neighboring communities – said the group will review the membership data in late May so “we’d know if non-resident passes is at a level where we’d be at a level that we would need to set a limit.” 

Bere said she believes the new costs will self-limit the number of out-of-towners coming to the Underwood. 

Wintery Blast Off to Official Groundbreaking of New Underwood Pool

The juxtaposition at the official groundbreaking for the new Underwood Pool was as glaring as the brilliant morning sunshine on Friday, Nov. 21.

Residents, business leaders and town official attended the ceremony heralding the building an outdoor summer time pool complex wrapped in parkas and scarfs while wearing gloves, boots and hats to brave one of the coldest days since last March.

Yet the cold, blustery conditions – it took several fire department personnel to keep the large American flag hoisted from the town’s ladder truck from blowing away – did not place a damper on the enthusiasm of the celebration.

“The pool is dead; long live the pool,” said Adam Dash, vice chair of the Underwood Pool Building Committee before the open pit where the century old pool once sat. If all goes to plan – the weather will determine when opening day will occur – the area will be teeming with residents using two brand-new pools this coming summer.

“Thank you all for coming here to witness this historic event; the first time in a 102 years that we’ve had a ground breaking for an Underwood Pool in the town,” said Dash

The history of the new pool complex replacing the historic facility built in 1912 is well known, beginning two years ago through the urging from Peter Castinino, the retiring director of the town’s Department of Public Works, funded via a Community Preservation Act funds, Town Meeting funding and a debt exclusion in April 2014, the sudden need to raise $400,000 after a contractor abandoned the project which was successful in October due in large part to the generosity of the Belmont Savings Bank Foundation which donated $200,000 and the work of building committee member Ellen Schreiber.

“Things like this don’t happen too often so this is a real Red Letter Day for the town of Belmont,” said Robert Mahoney, president and CEO of Belmont Savings.

“This will always be the Underwood Pool but I think this  is the People’s Pool. More than 450 families contributed to our matching grant to make this happen, from as small as $10 to $25,000. It’s a people’s effort and I’d like to congratulate all of us to make this happen,” said Mahoney.

Helen Baker, a descendant of the Underwood family that deeded to the town the land which the pool was located, thanked the bank’s “generous gift” and the other donations making the project possible.

In addition to the Underwood relatives, the town recognized DPW workers who “worked tirelessly to make sure the pool opened each season even after it exceeded its useful life,” said Belmont Board of Selectmen Chair Andy Rojas.

Finally, with wind chill temps in the mid-teens, the officials and residents who worked to make the project a reality took shovels in hand to “break ground” at the site.

Hopefully, the wardrobe for the pool’s ribbon cutting will be strictly summer attire.

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.