Public receives update on Arkville pool project

By Matthew J. Perry
At a Nov. 13 public hearing on the proposed Catskill Recreation Center in Arkville, local residents viewed preliminary drawings, asked questions and politely voiced their concerns.
In turn, they were informed politely that the project’s financing, scope and lifetime are nowhere near finalization, and that it will be months before they even know if the pool will function only in warm weather or year-round.
Roughly two-dozen people attended the hearing and listened respectfully as Rob Allison, of Rettew Engineering, walked them through an ambitious plan created by Catskill Recreation Center Inc., a nonprofit formed by Kingdon Gould Jr.
Gould, a longtime Arkville resident, is attempting to endow Middletown with a valuable asset: a versatile community center funded without tax dollars. In an interview last Friday, he stated that his family is “prepared to put up a substantial sum of money” to make the center a reality. But sources for additional funding will not be sought until engineers and architects submit finalized drawings of the center, which then can be used to solicit construction bids.
“It’s premature to start fund raising,” Gould said. “The economy has tanked and we don’t have final drawings. Until we do we really can’t go to organizations that support local community development.”
In addition to a recreation facility and pool, the project might ultimately include an ice rink. At the hearing, Allison described the plans for the recreation building, which will include fitness and locker rooms and a community gathering space, as the most detailed to date. The ice rink almost certainly will not be tackled in the first phase of the project’s construction.
The pool was subject to the most discussion, since it is not yet decided whether it will be indoor, outdoor or both. Some residents questioned the usefulness of a facility that could be used only three months out of the year and be of no benefit to swimming teams that compete in winter. Others argued that the outdoor experience is essential to a community’s enjoyment of a pool.
Gould’s opinion is that a pool building with retractable walls would be the best solution; he and Allison both affirmed, however, that economic reality might resolve the issue. If construction costs are high in 2009, they have been rising steadily in recent years, the outdoor pool might be the only viable option in the short term.
Whatever choice is made, the footprint of the pool, 80 feet by 80 feet with five swimming lanes, will be the same.
One woman reminded the gathering that at the first public announcement of the project, in 2007, the plan was centered on an indoor pool facility. She expressed concern that so much had changed since then. Allison stated that Rettew was presenting only what they had been asked to design.
Gould explained that the economic news of 2008, which continues to darken, may have untold effects on many community projects, however much support they may receive.
“I don’t like to use the word ‘crisis’, but the uncertainty of the times is very real,” said Gould. When his non-profit company does seek additional funding, a community recreation center might be viewed as a luxury rather than as a necessity. “There will be competing applications for funding,” he said.
That likelihood, coupled with the unknown construction costs, will force the community to live with some big question marks through the winter.
When Allison was asked if the hearing was premature, given the number and importance of those questions, he argued that the public must be informed of progress at every stage of the project. Gould agreed. “We’ve always been transparent, and we more than welcome input at every stage,” he said.
Gould also stated that funding would be expected to cover operational costs of the facility for three years, after which it is expected that it will be able to pay for its maintenance. Membership fees would “almost certainly” cover part of the costs, according to Gould. Revenue could also be generated through usage agreements with various community interests.
It is still uncertain who would manage the center once it opens.
The Middletown Planning Board, which held its monthly meeting in conjunction with the hearing, did not indicate that town ordinances would create problems for the project. While it was noted that the New York City Department of Environmental Protection has yet to approve storm water treatment plans for the site, neither Allison nor the board members expect serious complications to arise from that direction.
Concerning the board’s own site plan review, Allison was optimistic. “These plans meet most of their specifications,” he said. “If there are any major changes or budgetary items introduced, we’ll have another public hearing.”