Fans rally to rescue aging pool Fans rally to rescue century-old town pool Fans rally for Belmont’s century-old Underwood Pool
BELMONT — The Underwood Pool is showing its age.
The town-owned facility’s diving board, removed after being declared unsafe last month, might be shut down for good, according to Belmont officials. And the pool itself, which turns 100 this year, may not be far behind.
“I have a concern that someday, no doubt on a day like today, warm summer day, something is going to fail in the pool which is going to force us to close the pool for the season,” said Peter Castanino, director of the town’s Department of Public Works, during the Board of Selectmen’s meeting Monday night.
The pool floor leaks: The water level fluctuates inches at a time. Bacteria levels have been a problem. The surface of the floor is deteriorating, and some children have reported scraping and cutting their feet on it. The bathhouse is in sorry shape.
Town officials have vowed to work to save the pool and bring back the diving board, but they acknowledge that it won’t be simple.
It’s sad news for many in town. Generations of Belmont children have learned to swim at the pool. The Deep End Test — a full lap around the perimeter of the deep end — is a rite of passage.
Underwood has a rich history: according to the Belmont Historical Society, it is the oldest public outdoor pool in America.
Henry O. Underwood, who made his fortune selling deviled ham, donated the pool to give Belmont’s “little persons” a place to play, according to local historian Richard Betts, author of “Footsteps Through Belmont: A Historical Walking Tour of the Town.”
“This playstead,” wrote Underwood, according to Betts’ book, “is designed with special reference to the small boys and girls. There are enough of them in Belmont to have a park largely their own . . . nobody can drive them out of this park as they have been driven off private land.”
Last month, on the first day of the pool’s season, temperatures crept into the 90s and the pool filled with giddy swimmers clamoring for extra deep-end tests.
The Underwood pool was built to resemble a natural pond: It’s a large oval, 3 feet deep in the shallow end, sloping to a little more than 8 feet in the deep end. It’s split in two by a concrete wall with an island in the middle. Little ones test out their skills in the shallows.
“I feel like I’ve raised my kids here,” said Belmont resident Lisa Gibalerio, who said she visits to the pool almost every day during the summer with her three children. “I don’t know what else I would have done — put a sprinkler in the backyard?”
Pool manager Lorraine Benoit has been working at Underwood since 1964.
“The kids I had have their kids coming down now,” she said of the students in her swim classes. “Parents have come back and said their child swam the English Channel.”
Many of their names are lost to the ages — Benoit has given a lot of lessons. But one little boy she taught to swim 40 years ago sticks out in her mind. He was 4 or 5, deaf, and going blind.
“This was such a lifesaver for the family,” she said. “He loved the water.” His mother showed Benoit simple sign language so they could communicate.
In the past, said Benoit, the pool has had to close for a couple days at a time here and there, after thunderstorms flooded it with debris. But the staff always gets it up and running again.
“We always bounce back,” she said. “It’s a focal point of the summer. It’s quite a family attraction. A lot of camaraderie. . . . It’s just a nice place to be.”
A Facebook group called “Save the Diving Board At The Underwood Pool” has picked up more than 1,000 members, some of whom showed up at the selectmen’s meeting to discuss the pool.
“That diving board has never caused an injury,” said Karl Ivester, who created the group. “We just want what’s ours back.”
The selectmen are working with Castanino and the town’s Health Department to see whether there might be a way to bring back the diving board. It was removed on June 20 by the Board of Health because the water below it was too shallow to comply with state safety standards.
Castanino has an ambitious idea to rebuild the pool just up the hill from where it now sits. Though he has drawn up a concept design, he said, the plan is in its very early stages and has not been vetted by experts.
But, selectmen say, it’s a good place to start. It will be on the agenda for their July 16 meeting, they said.
As the town works to come up with ways to save Underwood, Castanino said that officials will try to keep the pool open this season.
“Every day, we hope it’s going to be open the next day,” he said.
Evan Allen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.