Bedford Recreation Director Josh Smith presented good news and bad news when he met with the Select Board last week to review the past season at – and take a look to the future of – Springs Brook Park.
The good news: it was a successful summer for park users and staff. The bottom line, however, was a deficit of almost $123,000.
“We all know that it’s not going to make any money, but it is an amenity for the town, and through the revolving fund we can afford it,” Smith affirmed. “We, as a Recreation Department, want to run it the best that we possibly can. That’s our goal.”
Recreation Commission Chair Robin Steele said her group’s next meeting agenda features a review of all major Recreation Department areas. And that conversation could include a study of long-term potential for the park. Steele noted that since the Select Board functions as town park commissioners, “whatever we think we are going to do, we will go to you first.”
“Springs Brook Park has a lot of space,” said Smith. “Volleyball, badminton, ice skating – there are a lot of options. A multi-purpose use there or somewhere else is the big-picture discussion. The options, given the space there, are pretty plentiful.”
“A lot of people have ideas of ways to make it better,” said Smith in answer to a question from Select Board member Shawn Hanegan. “There are study options, looking at what is successful in other communities.
“People see recreation as a service to the town,” he continued, responding to board member Paul Mortenson’s question. “There is feedback that we are not getting in terms of what could be. What’s the first step? Getting professionals to look at it,” for $40,000 to $50,000. He added that the need for additional field space may be a bigger immediate priority for the Recreation Commission.
Select Board member Margot Fleischman pointed out that the Community Preservation Committee is eager to hear ideas for projects in the category of recreation and open space.
“I think there are a lot of ways that space could be used. I think Springs Brook Park is a great asset to the community,” said Select Board member Emily Mitchell. “I just love it.”
Smith said Park Director Mary Gallant did “a great job” in 2023. The staff featured 17 lifeguards – because of the pond’s circular shape and depth, a minimum of eight lifeguards are needed for full operation, Smith said. Also on the payroll were a maintenance director and almost 30 teenagers on the crew.
“The staff and lifeguard shortage is real, and I think we did a better job than most communities,” Smith said. The park season is only eight weeks long, as many lifeguards need to prepare to return to school once it’s mid-August, Smith explained.
The children of the Summer Adventures day camp program learn to swim in the pond on weekday mornings, and they compute to 60 percent of total visits, the director said. He noted that there are no other swim lesson options.
Springs Brook extended its closing time until 7 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays and opened earlier on Saturdays in response to feedback, he continued. Marketing efforts increased over email and a brochure mailed to residences, and there were several special events over the summer.
The park is a “heavy lift” for the Department of Public Works, beginning with pre-season requirements. Since the pond is partially spring-fed, “We invest a lot in chlorine.”
Smith outlined some short- and long-term equipment needs. The 2024 season will require replacement of two chemical pumps, repairs to the spray platform, and additional sand – all estimated to cost $15,000. This year featured restoration of the full spray park and an additional three shade structures, Smith reported.
There are larger expenses on the horizon.
“The asphalt under the first half of the park is very worn,” Smith reported. Replacement with asphalt is estimated at $100,000; the price tag for applying gunite is five times that. “The park has aged and we have to keep up with it,” Smith said.
Park revenue exceeded $70,000 – higher than the past two summers, Smith reported. There were 78 family and 15 individual memberships, including 31 family and five individuals from out of town. There were 3,294 single visits to the park last summer, not counting Summer Adventures, Smith said.
Expenses also increased, he continued, in payroll, chlorine, utilities, and general operations. The DPW’s investment is about $50,000, Smith said; the remaining $72,737 is offset through the recreation revolving fund.
Fleischman reminded that a few years ago it was decided to end non-resident walk-in park visits, which resulted in a larger deficit. “We have certainly talked about that, but our main job is safety,” Smith stressed. “The volume was so high that safety was a concern.”The topic will be revisited for next season, the director said. Fleischman said ideally there is “an appropriate middle ground, and not be unwelcoming to folks, and not taking money off the table.”