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Pool committee fears it won’t get needed funding from town

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SHIRLEY — The transformation of the Benjamin Hill recreation area is astounding, according to those who have overseen upgrades and renovations of the swimming-pool facilities over the past several months and those who’ve seen the results this season.

Armand “Andy” Deveau, of the Benjamin Hill Pool Committee, said the work is nearly complete, and its benefits show already. Family memberships are up to 140 this year with over 500 swimmers enjoying the Olympic-sized pool.

“It’s a good year,” he said.

He and other committee members came to the July 16 Board of Selectmen meeting to pitch a plan to re-pave the Benjamin Hill parking lot, which he said is in bad shape, and ask the town for funding. It’s the first time they’ve done so for this project.

“We need your help to pave it,” he said.

With work in and around the new pool building “99 percent” done and final inspections in process, Deveau said part of the overall plan includes laying a concrete walkway for handicapped access to be done by volunteers at no cost to the town.

The paving, however, is another matter. The work, done right, includes grinding up existing pavement to form a compact bottom layer and coating and binding the 8,400-square-foot expanse with two layers of asphalt, said Deveau.

Department of Public Works (DPW) Director Joseph Lynch concurs.

An outside contractor would charge more than $11,000 to do the job, but Lynch can get it done for less via an existing paving contract with P.J. Keating, which will pave some town roads in August and September. If the job is done in that time frame, it will cost $7,910 less without the reclaiming process or $1,764 with it, totaling $9,674.

The town has received a value-added asset for free that benefits townspeople, said Deveau. The new pool building features men’s and women’s changing along with bathrooms with showers, a large gathering room with picnic tables, an office and a small kitchen area with a fridge. The state-of-the-art heating system, described as a “Cadillac” with a super-efficient hydro-air exchanger, is worth $15,000, but like everything else in and around the new building, it didn’t cost the town a dime. The installed system was donated by Lorden Oil Co.

The committee is asking the town for $10,000, but there’s a catch. While the selectmen control the purse strings, the Recreation Fields Committee has been the steward of the purse, which has been used to fund its projects. Given that tradition, two of the three selectmen didn’t want to pull the rug out from under the other group by dipping in to the recreation nest egg without giving them a say.

Deveau, however, said he fears they’ll say no.

Chairman Leonardo “Chip” Guercio acknowledged the “extraordinary” work volunteers and contributors have done at Benjamin Hill, but said he wanted to confirm the account balance and talk to the other group before acting on the committee’s request.

Selectman David Swain agreed. The fields committee might already have earmarked some of the money, he said.

Guercio said he’d put the item on the agenda for the next meeting.

Committee member Sylvia Shipton said the committee needs the money now.

“We’re under pressure to open the building,” she said.

The building can be readied without paving the parking lot, said Deveau, and adding a walkway for handicapped access is a separate job, since the committee will do the work.

Selectman Enrico Cappucci was set on voting at first. He pointed out that $50,000 had been allocated for the account and that town meeting voters specifically limited its use to town-owned facilities. The issue of town-owned versus other fields figures in because some fields the town uses belong to MCI-Shirley. The town leases them from the Department of Corrections and pays for upgrades and upkeep.

There’s $35,000 left in the town field account, said Cappucci, and $10,000 should be used to pave the Benjamin Hill parking lot.

“It’s a showplace, and it’s ours,” he said. “But the parking lot is a mess.”

Deveau said he’s worried the fields committee won’t see things that way. Citing an example of their reluctance to part with funds, he said when the pool committee needed $1,900 to truck donated gravel to Benjamin Hill, they had to “fight with them” to get it.

As conversation ebbed toward a debate over whether town money could — or should — be spent on a leased field versus a town-owned facility, Guercio said that’s not the point. Whether a recreational asset is town-owned isn’t as important as the enjoyment kids and families get from using it, he said.

“To me the issue is the benefit to the townspeople,” he said.

The issue also comes down to respecting various town groups rather than sparking competition between them, he said.

“It’s the selectmen’s decision ” he said, but he and Swain said they prefer to have “everybody in the room” when they make it.

The pool committee’s request will be taken up again at the next meeting August 6.

An all-season vision of Benjamin Hill, once the site of a ski area, as a year-round recreation destination includes a skate park on the site of the old tennis courts, a sledding hill and ice skating on the pond, with strategically placed benches. Part of the plan is to lay new piping to replace the defunct drainage system. Deveau said about 300 feet of 12-inch PVC pipe is needed to complete the work.