By Bram Berkowitz
Posted Jul 15, 2016 at 2:45 PM
With Skillings Field designated as the preferred site for a proposed aquatics center, Swim Winchester is working to develop a pool of donors to fund the roughly $13 million project.
They are urging residents and other interested parties to dive in.
The group has launched a feasibility study to determine if the capital can be raised entirely from private donations. Along with the site recommendation, Swim Winchester members hope to tell selectmen in the fall they feel confident about obtaining the necessary funding.
"We are at the point where we need to know," said Richard Solomon, a professional fundraiser who is leading the fundraising charge for Swim Winchester. "Can we raise the money? If we can't raise the money, it stops right there."
The aquatics center would likely include an eight-lane, 25-yard competition pool, a large warm-water recreational pool and space to potentially build an outdoor pool. Other proposed amenities are a fitness space, a multi-purpose event and meeting room and bleachers.
Efforts to build such a facility in Winchester date back to the 1960s. Swim Winchester was established in February 2013, and has proposed the aquatics center as a public-private venture, where the town provides the land and Swim Winchester funds the project.
The group raised $20,000 from more than 120 families in town to commission a feasibility study. At first, it appeared that the group would recommend the Wildwood Cemetery site for the project, but now Skillings Field has taken the lead.
"We firmly believe that Skillings Field is the most feasible site for the project based on the studies we've done and our consultations with geotechnical engineers," said Catherine Curtis, president of Swim Winchester. "The site has challenges including soil quality and flooding concerns, which have been factored into the cost estimates and will be addressed in the design phase."
One challenge of Skillings Field, according to Selectmen Chairman Lance Grenzeback, is determining who would be legally liable if construction workers dig up hazardous materials. In order to construct the culvert currently being built on the field, environmental remediation work is needed to cap hazardous materials, a situation that could arise if a new aquatics center was built on Skillings Field, he said.
Grenzeback, who said he is looking forward to seeing Swim Winchester's presentation, also said the proposed site falls on the edge of the 100-year floodplain, bringing flooding issues into play.
Architect David Anderson, who created the early designs for the aquatic center, said, "The floor level of the pool building is planned to be several feet above the level of the field, mitigating flooding issues with the building." Curtis said the building could serve as a cap for pollutants in the soil on that part of the field.
The location of Skillings Field, added Curtis, is also a huge advantage.
She said it is close to Winchester High School, making it a viable space for adaptive physical education, high school team training and as a place to watch other athletic events on the field from inside the center. It is also close to the downtown, making it an attractive feature for businesses, and near the Jenks Senior Center providing easy access for seniors, she said.
Solomon said the next few months are going to be crucial, as the organization plans to interview nearly 100 people to gauge support for the project, find volunteers and determine if raising the funds is possible.
"We are not soliciting any money at this point," he said. "In order to project how much money we can raise, (we are asking questions such as,) what would you as resident give over five years to make this happen?"
Solomon said the organization would be looking for a lead gift of $3 million and hopes to raise $12 to $15 million all at once for the project.
"Seeing other projects in Winchester gives me hope this can be done," said Solomon. "We know financial resources are out there. It's just a matter of how much of a priority this is for the town."