For now, the Rosemary site is blocked off for trespassers as construction is underway. Photo by Gabe Stern.
By Gabe Stern
Hometown Weekly Intern
For the first time in 45 years, Needham residents have to go across town lines to enjoy public pools and lakes. Rosemary Pool is now loaded with construction machinery rather than families enjoying the water. This is all in pursuit of a new, refurbished Rosemary complex that is slated to open by the summer of 2018.
This transition comes with high monetary costs - $16.8 million (almost all of it covered by the Community Preservation Fund) - as well as the inconvenience of taking away Needham’s trademark summer activity for a year. But Patricia Carey, the director of the Needham Parks & Recreation Department who is in charge of the transition, explained that while costs are inevitably high, the ultimate payoff of the project will have a substantial benefit for the community.
“[The pool] was a challenge to maintain because to paint the pool every year, you had to drain the lake, and wait for it to fill with rain,” said Carey, highlighting that the old Rosemary Pool was meant to last for only ten years. “We did a lot of rain dances in the spring.”
Not only will maintenance be less of a concern with the new complex, but it will be able to accommodate more ages and skill levels, with two slightly smaller pools and a spray park, “[All] within the same shell of what the old pool was,” Carey said.
The first pool, which will hold eight regulation-sized lanes as well as a diving board, will have deeper water than its counterpart. This will mainly be for teenagers and adults hoping to improve their swimming skills and will help relieve them of the burden of sharing this space with less experienced swimmers.
As Carey said, “When you’re three, you jump into someone’s arms. And when you’re 13, you’re doing flips and whatever else you like doing off of them, so [the diving board] is really [meant for] advancing your skills.”
The second pool, which will be known as the “recreational pool,” will accommodate younger children with less swimming experience. This will have shallow water with “zero depth entry,” and will feature two water slides, two lanes used for either walking or swimming, and water features that can cool off kids who prefer to stay in shallow water.
The two pools will be accompanied by a spray area that will be open past the summer months of June through August. Carey describes this as “another fun feature, especially for non-swimmers. You can even have people in wheelchairs who go through there. If a senior citizen wants to sit and get sprayed, then have fun and keep cool.”
Unlike the old pool, the new Rosemary complex will have amenities that can be utilized year- round, including offices on the second floor of a new administrative building, as well space for additional outdoor recreation around the pond.
Despite the high expectations for the new complex, the mood around Needham is mixed about the wait for the new pool.
“…It hasn’t been easy, especially for people who have transportation issues [which render them unable to visit other pools],” Carey admits. She also pointed out that not everybody knew of the transition before the start of the summer. Some people even called Carey asking when the pool would be opened.
For Needham residents like Sam Bass Warner, a former member of the town planning board and a visiting professor at MIT, major worries about the new project include both the cost and the location of the new complex.
“Because the new pools and building are being set on the side of a hill, the project probably costs a lot more than one on a level site. My guess is that one million dollars are being wasted.”
Warner also argued that Rosemary Lake should be utilized as a public area similar to Walden Pond, which he said better fits the lake’s natural features.
“It could easily be developed into a public park that everyone in town could enjoy, not just swimmers.”
Ultimately, the town voted to pursue the new complex rather than go with Warner’s proposal.
In the meantime, Wellesley, Natick, and Norwood have all lowered rates for Needham residents at their public swimming areas to in-town prices. This was a courtesy that Needham had offered to Wellesley in the past when Morses Pond was deemed unfit for swimming.
Matthew Chin, the director of the Wellesley Recreation Department, said that the decision to lower prices for Needham residents was easy to agree upon within his department.
“I think the Commission felt in the spirit of cooperation and when Needham helped Wellesley residents, it was the appropriate thing to offer.”
Chin said that 85 Needham residents have taken advantage of the in-town rates.
As many locals wait for the new Rosemary Complex to arrive in Needham, Patricia Carey maintains an optimistic attitude about the new development that much of the town shares with her.
“Most people have been very supportive and [there’s] lots of excitement for the community,” she said.