Delayed somewhat by the holiday season and difficulties getting together with one of the firms that bid on the Petersen Pool athletic complex, town officials will meet again later this week as they work on striking a deal to give a private company the ability to design, build and operate the pool and ice rink at Braintree High School and also receive preferential time for community and athletic team use.
Two qualified bidders were identified by the town last fall, and a selection committee has met with one of the firms, Mayor Joseph Sullivan said. Committee members, including Town Council and School Committee representatives, will meet with the second company this Thursday.
Under special legislation approved by lawmakers and signed by Gov. Deval Patrick in November 2011, Braintree was allowed to pursue a design-build approach, potentially leading to hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings on the project.
The home rule petition also allows lease terms for up to 50 years, a time frame that Sullivan called unusual for such projects, and one that offers the town flexibility in negotiation.
"We're only going to do it in terms that are positive for Braintree," Sullivan said. "No deal is better than a bad deal, and I'm not going to make a bad deal for Braintree."
The town is offering the bidders $1.5 million from a fund set up in the name of tugboat Capt. August Julius Petersen after he died in 1963. He originally put aside $65,000 for a pool at Watson Park and over the years the fund grew to approximately $2 million.
The deal also comes with the use of four and a half to six acres of land at Braintree High where Carson Field is now. Braintree will not operate or maintain the facility, but will retain ownership of the land.
Petersen Pool delays stretch back decades; Sullivan said that for a long time the town was unable financially to place a pool at Watson Park, despite the captain's fund. When he was elected the town's first mayor, Sullivan attempted to place an outdoor pool at Watson, but faced fierce opposition.
In December 2010, the mayor announced a plan to put the pool and a hockey rink at the high school. It met with some opposition, but received enough support to generate the special legislation and $2 million in borrowing for turf fields at BHS to accompany the athletic complex.
Since then, Braintree officials have faced resistance of another kind.
"The economy has a lot to do with" the most recenty delays, Sullivan said.
If a deal can be reached that includes enough pool and ice time for Braintree residents and sports teams, and also provides enough revenue for the bidder, Sullivan said he would like to see construction start by this spring, hopefully March rather than May.
At that point, it would take one year to 18 months for project completion.
Slash Pad at Watson Park
Across town at Watson Park, a plan to install a seasonal splash pad, upgrade the walking path and modernize the cookout area is moving along, Sullivan said.
The 3,500-square-foot splash pad is expected to cost $250,000 and be funded from the Capt. Petersen account. It was approved by town officials in 2011 and has also seen its share of delays.
Watson Park neighborhood resident Andrew Buttaro has challenged the town's right to build the pad, arguing that the park is protected under the Wetlands Protection Act as a Riverfront Area, Wetlands, and a flood plain.
He has circulated an online petition against the construction that had 22 supporters as of last week. The petition reads, in part:
Many residents are opposed to these changes at Watson Park for the following reasons:
I. These are seasonal facilities that will be unused well over 85% of the year. Keep the green open space and don't pave it over.
II. It will be difficult to maintain a safe environment for children to play in a splash pad at Watson Park where the water will recirculated in goose poop.
III. The Petersen Pool money should be spent on the Petersen Pool at the high school
IV. Tax dollars are better spent elsewhere and not maintaining these facilities.
However, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection has approved the project. Construction will likely begin in April and be finished by July, Sullivan said.
"I understand [Buttaro's] opposition. I respect that." Sullivan said. "I still believe it's the right use."
The splash pad will be open from around Memorial Day to Labor Day. In addition, Planning Director Christine Stickney has been working with experts from the federal government on a Monatiquot Riverwalk. Parking will also be expanded at the park.