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Some in Durham cool to UNH outdoor pool replacement plan

Union Leader Correspondent

March 18. 2014 10:00PM

DURHAM — The University of New Hampshire is proposing to spend $4.4 million to replace its historic outdoor pool with a more modern one.

“The university’s long-standing concerns about the safety of the aging facility prompted a decision last July to close the pool after the 2013 summer swimming season,” Vice President of Student and Academic Services Mark Rubenstein wrote in a letter to town councilors Monday asking them to support the resolution.

Resident Diane McCann, who attended the meeting, said a few people spoke in favor of the proposal while several more expressed “heartfelt feelings regarding the loss” of the existing pool, which was built in 1938.

“It was hard to characterize it — there was a lot of emotion (at the meeting),” McCann said Tuesday, adding many people in town are concerned that the university hopes to use part of the site for a recreation center.

As councilors continue to consider the proposal, a pool working group — which includes officials from UNH, town leaders and residents — is scheduled to meet today at 3 p.m. in the Oyster River Room at the Durham Public Library, 49 Madbury Road.

While the meeting is open to the public, McCann said there will be no opportunity for residents to provide input during the session. She said this bothers some residents.

“I don’t understand — in a democratic society — why we can’t discuss it,” McCann said.

The new proposal, which calls for a pool which will be between 14,000 to 16,000 square feet, is a compromise between the needs of the university and the community, according to Rubenstein.

“While larger than is essential for the university’s own current programmatic needs, the university recognizes the value that the town places in a uniquely large outdoor swimming facility and also sees value in anticipating future needs,” Rubenstein wrote.

“Additionally, the university is prepared to absorb the full cost of this option, estimated at $4.4MM (million). If we receive trustee support in April, it is our hope to have the new pool open for the 2015 summer,” he wrote.

In the letter, Rubenstein said the university considered a variety of designs for a new pool — from a 10,000-square-foot pool which could cost $3.7 million to a 32,000-square-foot retrofit costing in excess of $6.5 million.

The UNH outdoor pool is one of a few remaining WPA-era pools; it is about 42,000 square feet.

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