2013-01-18 / Front Page

Not so hot water

City hot tub gets attention after decade
By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer


South Portland Mayor Tom Blake, left, and Parks and Recreation Director Rick Towle, will work with citizens and city staff through 2013 to rehabilitate the hot tub at the South Portland Community Center. Blake said residents have consistently asked him about the hot tub through his six years on the city council. It was built in the late 1970s along with the building, and has been out of use for more than 10 years. (Jack Flagler photo) South Portland Mayor Tom Blake, left, and Parks and Recreation Director Rick Towle, will work with citizens and city staff through 2013 to rehabilitate the hot tub at the South Portland Community Center. Blake said residents have consistently asked him about the hot tub through his six years on the city council. It was built in the late 1970s along with the building, and has been out of use for more than 10 years. (Jack Flagler photo) SOUTH PORTLAND – Many baby boomers are probably familiar with the feeling that years of wear and tear are taking their toll on their bodies. It happens to people when they hit 50, 60 and beyond, when they start functioning differently than they used to. For some, the cure for those physical ailments can be found in hydrotherapy, with a soak in a hot tub relieving the aches and pains that come with age.

Unfortunately, in South Portland, the city’s public hot tub has gone through the same wearing down process over its lifespan. The hot tub was built in 1977 as part of the South Portland Community Center, and used by residents until it was shut down about 10 years ago, having outlived its useful shelf life.

This year, Mayor Tom Blake and Parks and Recreation Director Rick Towle are leading an effort to get the hot tub back up and running. The two have formed a hot tub renovation committee to “analyze the current situation, collaborate on a design, fundraise and oversee implementation,” according to the city’s community newsletter.

The committee is composed of a few residents and some city staff, but Blake and Towle would like to see some business owners contribute input as well.

“In my last six years on the council (the hot tub) has been a fairly common complaint from a lot of residents,” Blake said.

In particular, he has heard plenty from seniors, many of whom live in the more than 600 units managed by the South Portland Housing Authority.

Towle said the parks and recreation department has expanded its offerings for seniors, from stretch and step exercises to Tai Chi for arthritis to therapeutic recreation. However, the lack of a hot tub has limited the department’s ability to fill a serious need for seniors in the community.

“It’s a need, not a want. Before, it was a good amenity. Now, it’s a necessity,” Towle said.

Both Blake and Towle stressed the importance of not repeating the planning mistake many communities made in the 1960s and 1970s, when cities and towns largely preferred cheap, quick solutions to building needs and ignored long-term planning. Much of the infrastructure built in that time period wasn’t designed to last and communities are paying the price now.

“We weren’t doing anything wrong, it’s just what people did,” Blake said.

Today, that’s not the case. Blake and Towle said the committee will explore a way to fix the hot tub that doesn’t require revisiting it 10 or 15 years down the road.

Towle said some mechanical teams who came in to look at the hot tub told him they could get the tub up and running, but couldn’t guarantee their work for more than a few years. In Towle’s opinion, the city needs a better long-term solution.

On the outside, the condition of the hot tub doesn’t look all that bad. The paint job is still relatively intact, the cement benches aren’t too worn out, and it seems not too far removed from being a working structure. However, Towle said the exterior appearance masks more serious problems within. He compared it to a vehicle that may still look functional on the outside, but has mechanical problems under the hood.

“If it was my car, I might put it up for auction,” Towle said.

The South Portland Hot Tub Renovation Committee will meet once a month to identify problems with the tub and come up with a fundraising strategy, which Blake said will likely include private donations and municipal money. However, he said it’s hard to predict too far into the future without knowing now what it will take to fix the hot tub.

“We don’t have the answers, but we will by the end of the year,” Blake said.

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