State taps community for pool renovations
& Howard Manly
In what is being called a dangerous precedent, the Romney Administration
has asked private individuals to help finance much needed repairs
to a state-owned pool in Roxbury.
The state has already signed up $100,000 in private contributions
to pay for the $328,000 renovation project at the Melnea Cass pool.
The contributions are largely the result of fundraising advertisements,
voiced by former Boston Celtic Robert Parish and aimed at Roxbury
residents on the city’s minority owned WILD 1090 AM and 97.7
The remainder of the bill will be paid with a matching grant of
$100,000 from the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs and
$128,000 from the state Department of Conservation and Recreation.
“This is actually the first time we’ve done this,”
says state Department of Environmental Affairs spokeswoman Vanessa
Gulati. “This is the first public-private partnership throughout
the state. If this is successful, we’ll use it for a lot of
our closed pools around the state.”
But several critics of the fundraising drive argue that private
citizens, already paying state taxes, should not be asked to shoulder
an additional burden for repairs to state-owned property.
Like many public swimming pools and rinks in the Greater Boston
area, the Melnea Cass Pool was funded by the state Legislature.
Built in 1968 by the Metropolitan District Commission, the pool
and its adjoining skating rink have fallen into disrepair after
the state cut funding in the late 1970s.
“There have been 28 years of benign neglect,” said Roger
Freeman, grandson of Melnea Cass and a member of Friends of the
Cass Rink, an organization of local activists that has been working
to renovate the facilities. “Now they’re asking a community
that has no resources to contribute to this.”
The state now owns 46 pools, and all but a handful are scheduled
to open this summer. The pools in Chelsea, Waltham, Brockton, Attleboro,
South Hadley and Ludlow will not be opening this year.
But depending on the success of the state’s private-public
partnership in Roxbury, those community residents and business owners
could be asked to contribute to repairs and renovations. As it is
now, no other community is being asked for contributions.
“This is clearly intended to raise money for the operation
of the Cass facility,” said state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson. “That’s
not the responsibility of the community members who are paying for
it through their state taxes.”
State Rep. Gloria Fox asked DCR Commissioner Stephen Burrington
to pull the advertisements, which the agency has so far refused
“They do a disservice to the memory of Melnea Cass,”
Fox said. “A lot of people said they were offended by the
The skating rink has been closed since the 1980s. In the meantime,
DCR workers have used the rink to store construction supplies and
building materials. While the pool has been in use in recent years,
the pool house has suffered from a variety of ailments, including
clogged plumbing, malfunctioning showers and toilets and storage
of hazardous materials including asbestos tiles and paints.
Freeman and other members of Friends of the Cass Rink have managed
to keep programming going at the pool, working with a coalition
of black elected officials to wrest funding from the state. In past
years, METCO Director Jean McGuire has run an in-line skating program
at the rink.
But in its current state of disrepair, the rink cannot be used.
The roof is perforated where rust has penetrated and accumulations
of pigeon feces coat the concrete floor.
In recent years, DCR has repeatedly advanced plans to privatize
the rink and pool — turning operation over to a business that
would lease the space to sports teams and provide limited community
“DCR has made it very clear that they would like to privatize
all their rinks,” Wilkerson said. “They have lost that
before and they will lose that again.”
While the DCR expects to raise funds for the rink from members of
the community, the decision making process about how those funds
are spent has had no community involvement — a plan Wilkerson
calls a “dangerous precedent.” In fact, community members,
including members of the Cass family, did not hear about the plans
for the ads until they had began to air in March.
“They’re talking about my grandmother and they didn’t
even inform us they intend to do this,” Freeman said. “How
do you promote something like this and not invite the community
in as stakeholders?”
When the renovation project is completed on June 15, the Melnea
Cass Pool facility will have a waterslide, a refurbished pool house
and new landscaping.