WINCHESTER - It appears as though Swim Winchester, the organization attempting to bring a community swimming pool to Winchester (and specifically on Skillings Field), has “ghosted” both the Select Board and the group opposing the location of the pool, The Friends and Neighbors of Skillings Field.
(Ghosted is a millennial term, usually reserved for relationships, that refers to someone disappearing without saying goodbye.)
The last time Swim Winchester updated the Select Board on their progress occurred back in January of 2018; so long ago that Richard Howard was still the Town Manager. At the time, they informed the Select Board and School Committee they would provide an update within two years.
According to acting Select Board Chair Michael Bettencourt (chair Mariano Goluboff was away, but did call in, along with member Amy Shapiro, who was also away), the only communication between his board and the non-profit entailed setting up a time for Swim Winchester to visit the Select Board for that update. It never happened.
“We’ve tried to get them in,” Bettencourt admitted, before adding how waiting on the Master Plan caused some of the delay.
He then added his board hadn’t been updated on the process publicly or privately. Moving forward, he said, “we’ll make a larger effort to get them in for an update.”
These comments frustrated members of The Friends and Neighbors of Skillings Field who have been waiting two years to find out what’s happening with the pool project. They mentioned the group had raised some money, but nothing more than an average of $10,000 per month. Considering the project was estimated to cost $12M, it would take Swim Winchester 10 years to raise the necessary amount (by which time the price could increase).
Jeff Dean, speaking on behalf of The Friends and Neighbors of Skillings Field, pointed out all the negatives associated with the field: it’s 16 acres of space located in the floodplain that used to be a town dump and was filled with all sorts of toxic chemicals.
He said he and his neighbors have already experienced seven years of construction including remediation and adding a fourth culvert underneath the surface.
“These projects have caused physical damage, psychological stress and a decrease in the quality of life,” he noted. “Enough is enough. Give the neighbors a break.”
In this case, the break would involve the Select Board rejecting Swim Winchester’s proposal.
Dean pointed out that neither a traffic nor safety issue regarding the pool has been addressed; plus, it would take away a small field, which he argued could be needed in the future.
“We have property rights,” he argued, “and this hardship needs to come to an end. We want a public position that Swim Winchester is in violation of Jan. 16, 2018 proposal.”
In a follow-up email, Dean wrote how “the burden was placed on Swim Winchester to report back over two years, not at the end of two years. There has been no evidence of progress on any of the items, and the Select Boards seems unconcerned that the deadline they set (to provide the neighbors with finality) has lapsed.
“The 10 families that attended in person looking for answers, and the 30-plus that signed our petition opposing the site in 2018 are very frustrated and disappointed. The conditions have not been met, the time is up, give the neighbors the relief that they were promised.”
Coincidentally, back in 2018, School Committee member Chris Nixon, while supporting the project, said the town should give Swim Winchester two or three years to raise the funds.
“I don’t want this hanging over the neighbors’ heads,” he acknowledged, which is exactly what’s happening.
While the board couldn’t answer all the neighbors’ questions and didn’t necessarily acknowledge the timeframe other than to suggest they would absolve some of the blame, they never officially closed the door on the project.
This caused Dean to ask, since the organization hadn’t provided an update in more than two years, “what will one more day do?”
In the email, he continued, “the neighbors expect a fair and impartial treatment by town officials. Despite acknowledging and unanimously voting to time bound the decision - the Select Board acknowledged that they have had no conversations with Swim Winchester regarding any of the conditions. The neighbors raised this to the Select Board in August, making it very clear we were looking forward to closure.”
At the meeting, Dean said he believed the non-profit had no money, but continued to fundraise under the guise of an expanded footprint.
In the email, he argued, “right now, Swim Winchester is raising money with (1) an expired permission, (2) without having met any conditions, and (3) using an unapproved expanded footprint that takes away more field space and violates multiple zoning and land use ordinances.”
His group has maintained they aren’t against the project, just the location.
Two years ago, Swim Winchester brought forward many Winchester High School swimmers including former teammates Kate Fosburgh and Anna Flaherty, plus boys captain Carter Semmes, to hammer home the importance of a “home” swimming pool.
At the time, members of the Select Board and School Committee praised both the project and Swim Winchester. They felt, while Skillings Field wasn’t perfect, it “beat the other sites by a wide margin,” according to former Select Board member Lance Grenzeback.
The boards also understood the project would need the approval of Town Meeting before any work could begin. With two years of silence from Swim Winchester, it seems that prospect may be far away.