History of UNH’s outdoor pool may decide its future
DURHAM — The town has filed a formal request seeking the New Hampshire Division of Historical Resources’ involvement with the future of the historic University of New Hampshire outdoor pool.
The town is asking the division to work with the university, the town and the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services to evaluate the historical significance of the WPA-era pool that is still in use. They would also like the division to meet with and talk to supporters to consider ways to preserve the pool and ensure that appropriate health and safety standards are met.
Elizabeth Muzzey, director and historic preservation officer for the NH Division for Historical Resources, said she has talked to both the university and the town, and the first step will be to hold a joint meeting at the pool and to learn more about the resource.
To date, she said there has not been any type of historical inventory done on the pool.
“The most important step is to really understand the resource you have at hand,” she said.
She has recommended that a historical inventory be done for the pool so everyone involved in decision-making can have a full understanding as to whether it is historically significant and if so, how it is significant.
“So, for something like this, how does it fit into the larger story of what the WPA did during the 1930s, what was the WPA doing in New Hampshire and throughout the country to provide people with recreational resources,” Muzzey said.
How the pool was engineered might also be historically significant.
“I’m not an expert on the history of pools, but from what I have heard to date, it sounds like the engineering behind this swimming pool is very interesting,” Muzzey said.
The inventory also includes looking at how a resource has changed over time, and whether any changes harmed the significance of the resource.
The Durham pool has been modified since its original construction in 1938.
Muzzey said even if the resource is deemed historically significant, it may not affect any plans UNH might have.
“There are regulatory processes in place that protect historic resources in various ways. None of those processes are designed to stop projects, but the goal is to consider the full value of the resources before they’re harmed and to try and find ways to avoid that harm if possible,” Muzzey said.
Community members have been circulating petitions calling on the university to preserve the pool and have formed a “Friends of the UNH Outdoor Pool” group to try and convince the university of the value of keeping it. The Durham Town Council has also put their support behind preserving the pool.
In a July 19 statement, the university indicated plans to close the pool at the end of this swimming season because of safety concerns, including filtration and the size of the deck surface around the pool, and to make way for expansion of the nearby Hamel Recreation Center, formerly the Snively Arena.
Although no proposals have been finalized, at least one calls for expansion of the recreation center onto the footprint of the existing pool, and reconstructing a smaller pool nearby to replace it.
A “town and gown” committee has been meeting to discuss the future of the pool, and UNH officials have said they are planning a larger public meeting in the fall.
DES has deemed pool safe for swimming and the water quality is checked at least twice each day.