Framingham Leaders: Pool Not Suitable For Swim Teams But Considering Other Uses For Belknap Property

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FRAMINGHAM – The Framingham Division of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs is prepared to undergo a public process to determine the best use of the Belknap Pool & Tennis Club property should the 11-member City Council decide that this is a good investment for Framingham.

The item is on the City Council agenda for tonight, June 29 at 7 p.m. The public may participate in person or via Zoom.

In November 2020, the City of Framingham was notified of a potential buyer for the Belknap Pool & Tennis Club.

The City of Framingham has the right to match the offer of $315,000 for the pool & club at 351 Belknap Road.

The 11-member City Council voted unanimously in March 2021 to authorize the Mayor to execute that option.

The Framingham Youth Council also voted unanimously 8-0 to support the purchase of the property, first as a pool, but as a last resort as green space.

After an environmental study was conducting on the property, on June 14, municipal and school leaders, including District 3 City Councilor Adam, School Committee Chair Adam Freudberg, met at Parks & Recreation Department Office at Bowditch Field to discuss the
potential uses of the Belknap Pool & Tennis Club, if purchased by the City of Framingham.

The intent of the meeting was to look at potential uses for the school and municipal departments and develop a plan to redevelop should the City Council choose to purchase.

“Meeting participants at that time generally agreed that refurbishment of the pool would not be a promising return on investment
given the limited capacity of the pool and the costs to provide the necessary code-complaint upgrades, there was interest in considering other reuse possibilities,” according to an internal memo sent to the Mayor and the City COuncil.

On June 24, representatives from the Framingham Public Schools, including: Superintendent of Schools Bob Tremblay, Assistant Superintendent for Equity, Diversity and Community Development Joseph Corazzini, Framingham Public School District Executive Director of Finance & Operations, Lincoln Lynch IV, and Tiffany Lillie, Director of Community Resource Development for the Framingham Public Schools joined with representatives from the Parks & Recreation Department, including: James Snyder, Director, Thom Begin, Deputy Director, and Christopher McGinty, Superintendent of Maintenance, and James Paolini, Director of Capital Projects and Facilities for the City of Framingham, to visit the site.

According to the June 24 memo to the 11-City Councilors, those that visited the site came to the following conclusions:

“Millions of dollars in repairs and code-compliance upgrades would be necessary if the pool were to remain as a site amenity. Even with those improvements, the pool has a very limited capacity of swimmers and does not meet the needs of the Framingham High School
swim team or the Recreation swim team. Additionally, open air showers and toilets will need to be completely renovated and made accessible. The site itself is tucked away on the north side of the city and is not easily accessible to southside residents who do not have a car and the unpaved roadway access currently in place has no turnaround capability for school buses if those were to be used to
improve access to the site.”

The memo also stated “if the pool is to be in-filled instead of reclaimed for swimming, the cost for this action must be weighed against the reuse potential and need.”

In regards to the tennis courts on site, the group that toured said courts are not in “playable condition. Tennis courts on the current Framingham High School athletic complex are in dire need of repair and provide more direct, campus access for students across the city. This capital improvement need has been expressed by the Parks and Recreation Department and the Framingham Public Schools but has
reached a point where the HS Tennis Team competed at the Bowditch tennis courts because the courts at the HS were considered unsafe. Framingham also has tennis courts located throughout the City that are underutilized.”

“When the group looked at the overall land use, there was a need to account for environmental land use restrictions. Two of the available 6 acres are able to be developed and the other 4 acres are considered wetlands. This will impact the size and scope of potential redevelopment,” noted the June 24 memo.

“The least expensive and most easily achievable use would be to preserve the lot as is by clearing the property of all structures and safety hazards to provide open space and improved parking,” said the school and parks & recreation leaders in their memo.

“There exists the possibility of designating the site for a camp with a play field, picnic area, playground or other similar use as the Parks and Recreation Department has done successfully in other parks. Knowing the topography, it could be used as a nature center or community garden. Raised garden beds that could be accessible to students with disabilities, as well as seniors who might have difficulty bending down to a standard garden plot is in alignment with the city’s age and dementia friendly initiative. Many seniors are avid gardeners and would likely enjoy the opportunity to share their wisdom with students. If portions of the produce are shared with the food pantries in the
area or Meals on Wheels program that would benefit yet another aspect of the community,” wrote the leaders in their memo.

Access to the Hultman Aqueduct was positioned as a benefit of the property but is complicated by the fact that there are no trespassing signs posted on the property. The City has been told there is no trespassing, however, the group asked Jim Snyder to request clarification and perhaps a permit or variance for the public to walk on the Aqueduct,” wrote the leaders in the memo.

“Another out-of-the-box idea was to create a ropes/high ropes course that could be well-suited on the Belknap property, but this recreational offering is already available to Framingham Public Schools students through our partnership with the YMCA and therefore, in our opinion, would be an unnecessary expense. This could be an additional amenity for the Recreation but again, are we trying to create something that is already built in Framingham,” noted the memo.

“The group also discussed renting out the facility to a private vendor to generate revenue. While a public-private partnership could be viable, the questions raised was how much funding will be needed to develop and maintain the property vs. the revenue generated for the City and the vendor. The City currently partners with these types of vendors at multiple sites throughout the City that are more conducive to run after school programs and camps,” wrote the leaders.

In this review by the Department Heads of the Belknap Pool & Tennis Club purchase, and knowing the financial situation of the City, status of deferred projects, and the need for additional ongoing maintenance funding required, we felt that the better return-on-investment would be to repair and upgrade existing school and municipal recreational facilities to best meet the needs of students and residents. However, we understand that not everyone shares this view and it would be in the public’s best interests to explore all options,” note the memo.

Future steps if the City Council agrees that it is a good investment and seeks to purchase property are to:

  • Hold a Public Information Session later this summer either by Zoom or onsite to determine potential redevelopment.
  • Seek examples and RFP (Brookline) to explore Public-Private Partnerships.
  • School Department staff who have not been to the site will visit to continue the assessment for both athletics site usage, and to provide insight into the RFP draft.
  • Parks and Recreation will seek clarification from the MWRA to learn of their interest in aqueduct trail access expansion.
  • Parks Department to write out a timeline for all actions.

The June 24 memo was sent to Mayor Yvonne Spicer and the 11 City Councilors, as well as the Framingham School Committee, Matt Torti, Framingham Public Schools Director of Buildings & Grounds and Paul Spear, Framingham Public Schools Director of Athletics.

The Belknap Pool & Tennis Club, built in 1947, is a 6-acre property at 351 Belknap Road. The property features an outdoor pool and a tennis club. The property was put on the market in August 2019. The property is zones R-4, and is located in District 3.

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