“The latest design of our new watersports facility is incredibly family-friendly, universally accessible and welcoming to people of all abilities and interests,” said Mayor Ruthanne Fuller, who introduced the proposed design in a Dec. 9 statement.
Located on Albemarle Road, the outdoor Gath pool is used by more than 30,000 users each season, according to the city.
The proposed project would also expand the footprint of the existing Gath Pool and require the demolition of two nearby tennis courts. Officials would seek to replace those courts with half a dozen pickleball courts as part of a separate upgrade project for nearby Albemarle Field, Nicole Banks, the city’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Culture Commissioner, said in an interview.
According to Josh Morse, Newton’s building commissioner, funding for the pool project would come largely from Newton’s Community Preservation Act. This funding is subject to approval by the city’s Municipal Preservation Commission. CPA funds are supported by a property tax surcharge and are reserved for uses such as outdoor recreation facilities, as well as land or historic preservation and affordable housing.
Fuller has also committed $1 million from the city’s share of American Rescue Plan Act money to the project. State Representative Kay Khan also secured a $400,000 budget earmarking for the Gath Pool, Morse said in an interview.
The Gath Pool project would not be part of a proposed $15 million tax hike, Morse said in an interview. City residents will vote on the proposed tax increase in the spring, which includes money for schools, city budgets and housing projects.
The pool proposal would ultimately need approval from Newton City Council.
If approved, the existing Gath pool would be used for the 2023 summer season and then replaced by the new facility, Banks said. The city’s goal is to complete the project in time for the 2024 summer season.
The proposal will be examined by city councils, including the Disability Commission. Eileen Sandberg, a co-chair of the commission, said in an email that the proposed Gath Pools “renovations and improved accessibility are very welcome and important to the community.”
According to Fuller, the Parks and Recreation Commission will meet Monday night at 7 p.m. to discuss the project.
Look for a link to the meeting on the Park and Recreation Commission website: newtonma.gov/government/parks-recreation-culture/park-recreation-commission.
City officials have been working for more than a year on a replacement for the existing Gath Pool facility, which was built some 60 years ago and has exceeded its useful life. Officials said the aging outdoor pool has become expensive to maintain, leaking thousands of gallons of water every day when it’s in use.
The facility also predates the federal law on Americans with disabilities, and while it’s been modernized over the years, it can still be a challenge for some people to use.
Banks said that during public discussions and focus group meetings regarding the project, city officials learned that some people may not go to the Gath Pool because they don’t feel comfortable there.
For example, the existing changing rooms do not allow some people to take care of themselves without help. Or there is not enough space for people to move around easily.
When planning the new pool complex, officials wanted to make sure it was “built for everyone,” Banks said.
“We have a large population of people with disabilities in the city and a lot of older adults who use or want to use the pool,” Banks said. “We’re really just trying to break down barriers with the new design to make sure everyone is welcome and able to visit us.”
Cedar Pruitt, president of the Friends of Albemarle neighborhood group, commended the proposed project. In an email, she said the group appreciates the city’s “willingness to pivot” in response to community feedback.
“We are excited about the new plans, which will accommodate our many recreational and competitive swimmers and will be fully accessible,” Pruitt said.
For more information on the proposed Gath Pool project, visit the City’s website: newtonma.gov/government/parks-recreation-culture/aquatics/gath-memorial-pool-renovation-project.
John Hilliard can be reached at [email protected]