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Williamstown's Sand Springs Recreational Center Seeks Town Funds

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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Sand Springs director Geraldine Shen tells the Select Board that the pool is seeking some operating support to keep it low cost for the community.
 
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Sand Springs Recreation Center is asking the town for financial support to help keep the pool it operates an affordable resource for residents.
 
Sand Springs Executive Director Geraldine Shen was at Town Hall on Monday night to explain to the Select Board the non-profit's request that the town appropriate $19,000 toward operational expenses at the facility.
 
"We have not been something the town has given money in the past," Shen said. "We have successfully sought support from the Community Preservation Committee. And those specific projects have gone well. Today, we're asking for general operational support."
 
Shen, the sole year-round part-time employee of Sand Springs, explained that its board has worked to keep membership rates as low as possible while keeping the business in the black.
 
"We have been doing the hard work of making up for deferred maintenance [of past owners] while also lowering the rates from the previous ownership," she said. "We have a business model that has the pool operating in a self-sufficient manner in the not-too-distant future. … In the meantime, we have been supplementing [revenue] with fund-raising and grant applications.
 
"This is a way for the town to take some of the pressure off."
 
Shen said Sand Springs Inc. in 2018 raised about $40,000 through grants and donations, and those were the only way the business can stay out of debt.
 
She said while the venture enjoys a lot of goodwill in town, there are a lot of other charities competing for donors' dollars.
 
"We're confident about the future of the organization if the town is able to step in and support it," she said. "The town has supported other organizations."
 
Each year, voters at annual town meeting routinely have approved expenditures to support the Williamstown Youth Center and the Chamber of Commerce. In May 2017, the former received $75,677; the latter received $48,126, 10 percent of the town's revenue from the commonwealth's room occupancy excise tax.
 
Shen noted that unlike some towns, Williamstown does not have a municipal pool. And aside from Margaret Lindley Park and Linear Park, it does not have much in the way of public recreation space.
 
Sand Springs strives to be a good citizen by offering discounted rates for school groups and scholarships for people who need financial assistance, she said.
 
Of the center's 140 season memberships last year, between 80 and 90 percent were people with Williamstown addresses. Sand Springs also tracks the hometowns of those who buy day passes and said about 40 percent of those go to town residents, she said.
 
"I think it's very much a town pool, and we'd very much like the town's support in making sure we're here forever," Shen said.
 
The $19,000 sought would represent about 12 percent of the center's operating budget, she said. Although the request now is for a one-time infusion of taxpayer funds, Shen said assistance in future years would be helpful.
 
The Select Board took no action on the request on Monday night. It will have the option to put an article on the warrant for town meeting when it sets the warrant next month.
 
"This feels like one we put before the town," Select Board Chairman Hugh Daley said. "Maybe we don't drive them the petition route but let them make the case to the town."
 
Shen is scheduled to make her case to the town's Finance Committee on Wednesday.
 
In other business on Monday, before the Select Board heard a lengthy list of objections to a draft zoning bylaw, Town Manager Jason Hoch informed the board that the planned expansion and renovation of the former Turner House for a new police station is at the 95 percent design level. Hoch, crediting the architect and design team, said the project is still on track to go to bid in mid-April. 
 
Hoch hopes to ask May's town meeting for the authority to borrow $5 million toward the new police station with the expectation the borrowing will have no net impact on the tax rate. Hoch is developing a plan that will allow the town to make its payments on the note from its reserves and anticipated revenue growth through fiscal 2025, when the construction bond for Williamstown Elementary School will be coming off the books.
 
Hoch also announced that the town has two openings on its Sign Commission, which is appointed by the Select Board.
 
Coming full circle on a discussion begun last fall, Hoch said the town has completed its exploration of the feasibility of a roundabout at the junction of Water Street (Route 43) and Main Street (Route 2) and found that the design change would not meet its objective.
 
Hoch told the board the idea was conceived as a way to improve pedestrian and bicycle safety more than a way to ease traffic congestion.
 
"Until we had an engineer design it, we wouldn't know," Hoch said. "We received preliminary designs back … and found it is a reasonable traffic consideration but it's not something with significant gain for pedestrian or bicycle safety.
 
"If, down the road, we found there was a vehicular traffic problem, this is worth looking at. Since our primary motivation was looking at how to help bicycles and pedestrians, it's not worth it."
 
Hoch said the town is looking at some options related to curb cuts and crosswalk placement to see if it can address the pedestrian/bicyclist concern that way.
 
Finally, Hoch informed the Select Board that he is exploring a possible intermunicipal agreement with New Ashford to supply property assessor services to the neighboring community.

Tags: Sand Springs,   town meeting 2018,   

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