More than three and a half years ago, several residents, disappointed that a swimming pool couldn’t be included as part of the high school renovation/addition project, formed Swim Winchester, an organization tasked with bringing a community swimming pool to town.
Although the road has been long - and winding - the group continues to close in on their ultimate goal. In the last three plus years they’ve made many strides, including finding a location for the pool, raising money for feasibility, geotechnical and environmental studies and convincing the Select Board and School Committee that their preferred location, Skillings Field, was the right choice.
That last piece of the puzzle, persuading the important town officials that Skillings Field would work, took some time and effort. The field, adjacent to the high school, used to be the town dump. Therefore, over the years it became contaminated. Recently, however, the town performed remediation work and removed most of the contaminated soil as part of the culvert installation project.
That was just one problem, though. The field is also in the 100-year flood plain. This means that although the town has undertaken many flood mitigation projects, such as widening the Aberjona River and adding a fourth culvert underneath Skillings Field, the field could still flood if the town was ever hit by a major rainstorm.
There’s also a third issue, which involves many people in the neighborhood of the high school who don’t want a pool located there. This group has dubbed themselves The Friends and Neighbors of Skillings Field. They said during one Select Board meeting that they had concerns about the condition of the field. Jeff Dean, spokesperson for the group, reminded the board about the history of the field as a dumping ground for many contaminants such as incinerator ash.
Dean acknowledged that he’d like to keep what’s buried in the ground, in the ground.
“We don’t know what’s under there,” he mentioned.
However, thanks to environmental work done by GEI Consultants, they do know what’s under there. In a summary, GEI said that while remediation of the western portion of the field was required, remediation of the northeast portion of Skillings Field is not necessary. Unlike the western portion, the northeast portion of the field has no restrictions on its use due to environmental conditions.
“Based on observations from previous soil borings and on historic maps and aerial photographs in reports by VHB, the proposed pool location is on the edge of the former wetland and dump area, and includes part of the former railroad freight yard,” GEI noted in its report.
The consultants mentioned that in the past 14 soil samples were collected for chemical testing from seven soil borings and one pre-characterization area located on or near the proposed swimming pool site. (Pre-characterization establishes the method of soil recycling, reuse and/or disposal.)
GEI goes on to note that “the soils were evaluated within a category established by Mass DEP which is used for both residential properties and playing fields (RCS-1)” and they had readings that fell below the concentrations that required reporting for this category.
“Four of five samples collected from deeper soil within the general pool area also had readings below reportable concentrations, and one had concentration of metals above the RCS-1 minimum. As was clear from the culvert and field remediation projects, several samples from outside the proposed pool building area had concentrations of contaminants above the minimum for the RCS-1 soil category.”
“GEI’s geotechnical recommendations included ground improvement and building foundation elements that minimize the creation of excess soil. Based on the environmental testing of this area, any excess soil that would be generated could be reused onsite, so that no offsite disposal would be required. However, given that Skillings Field lies at least partially within the Aberjona River floodplain, the permitting requirements for compensatory flood storage may affect the allowable grading of the site, and the reuse of any soil.”
Should any soil need to be carted offsite, GEI stated the cost would be $25/ton for category A (all shallow test results were category A), $50/ton for category B and $95/ton for out-of-state non-hazardous. They then estimated 2,000 cubic yards or 3,000 tons. Therefore, if 50 percent falls into categories A and B, the disposal cost could be $112,500. Depending on the amount of soil that falls into each category, including the need for out-of-state disposal, GEI estimated a cost range between $82,500 and $163,500. They consider the midrange most likely.
“There is nothing within this preliminary environmental report to suggest that the site is environmentally unsuitable or economically unfeasible,” GEI concluded in its report. “Further testing is required, and special care will need to be taken during construction to mitigate any environmental issues.”
GEI also prepared a geotechnical report that analyzed the data provided by Gale Associates (four borings in 2007), VHB (seven borings between 2013-2016) and itself (two borings in 2017).
“The conclusions drawn are generally positive. While the site’s soil conditions are hardly ideal, the proposed location is certainly buildable for the purposes of the pool building. The subsurface conditions will require foundations that compensate for the mixed soils densities, but the structural bearing capacity is better than might have been anticipated based on earlier borings data from other areas of Skillings Field, which recorded much deeper layers of compressible peat.”
GEI’s borings were performed near the proposed outline of the pool at a depth of 31 feet and were used to identify the soil composition on which they reported. Their conclusions were then supported by data taken from the previous multiple borings.
• The topmost 10’ is granular fill, made up of sand, gravel and silt, varying in density from “very loose to medium dense”
• The next layer is about 10’ of amorphous peat, down to a depth of about 20’
• The third layer is sand, with lesser quantities of gravel and silt. Its density is much greater than the upper layers, qualifying as “medium dense to dense”
Although the soil may be workable, groundwater may be an issue, which was found at five and 7.7 feet deep in the two borings. (The use of water during the borehole drilling implies that these measurements may not be representative.)
That level of groundwater may argue in favor of raising the pool above grade, which had been discussed by Swim Winchester at a previous Select Board meeting. This means the building design will need to be mindful of floor heights, elevations and building mass to address neighbors concerns about building size.
In their geotechnical conclusion, GEI noted that “Skillings Field presents subsurface soil conditions that create challenges and costs particular to the site. Nevertheless, these factors appear to be well within the range of what is technically feasible in terms of geotechnical issues, and were. accounted for in the foundation cost premium that Swim Winchester built into the estimate prepared by Counselman Hunsaker.”
* What does this all mean?
These reports show that it’s feasible to build a pool where Swim Winchester proposes. Although the area may not be ideal (some contamination, lying in the floodplain), considering the alternatives it may be the best option.
Swim Winchester President Catherine Curtis is optimistic. In an email, Curtis mentioned the “impressive” town-wide support.
“Even before we have a confirmed site and design, we have raised over $100,000 from individuals and foundations. Residents recognize that Winchester has been without a public pool for too long and that the proposed facility will be a great place for everyone to meet, swim, and workout.”
Curtis noted the her group has been in contact with town officials, especially during the geotechnical and environmental work. She expressed her excitement that the testing showed that the building is technically feasible and within an acceptable cost range.
“The reports establish that the site is suitable for this structure and they give us a lot of information that we can use to make design decisions,” Curtis noted.
As Swim Winchester moves forward on the proposed $12M pool, Curtis mentioned the group continues to seek input from residents and neighbors.
“Their concerns matter to us and we will continue to meet with them,” she said, specifically acknowledging The Friends and Neighbors of Skillings Field.
As the organization moves forward, Curtis stressed how they would remain “committed to working cooperatively with residents as much as we can to address traffic and parking concerns. While there are issues to address as we develop the project, we remain confident that the facility will become a well-loved part of life in Winchester.”
Even though the testing came back positive for Swim Winchester, there’s still work to be done. Swim Winchester still needs to obtain a lease for the land that would need the approval of the School Committee and Town Meeting. (Technically, the school department has jurisdiction over the use of the field, in actuality the Select Board has jurisdiction over the field, which is why the it has been running point on all these environmental tests and other work.)
As Curtis pointed out, “at the Skillings field location, the building becomes a focal point for the athletic offerings on site with outdoor seating, bathrooms, and storage. Overall, the building will provide added amenities to improve the use of Skillings field. Meeting rooms and attractive public spaces also mean the building will be a great gathering place for the community. In 2005, the Board of Selectmen proposed a similar community center but decided to delay it because of the upcoming high school renovation. Now is the time to make this community resource a reality.”