Early photo of the Springs

A rough winter for Williamstown businesses continues, with The Springs the latest to announce its closure:

Pete Scerbo, who represented The Springs Pool and Spa’s owner, Amy Patten, said the business won’t operate this summer during a meeting of the Community Preservation Committee Tuesday night.

“At this point in time, we’re not going to be opening the pool. It’s something we’re not taking on this year,” Scerbo said Wednesday morning.

The business’ website states it’s closed and up for sale.

The current owners took over in 2003 from the George family, which had owned it since 1950 and operated it as the “Sand Springs Pool & Spa.” And the 74-degree lukewarm springs have been a public ammenity for much longer. According to the Depression-era Federal Writer’s Project’s Guide to Massachusetts People and Places, Sand Springs Pool had a bathing hut erected “as early as 1800,” and “had been used for hundreds of years” by Native Americans before the settlement of Williamstown by Europeans.

When I was a student, Sand Springs Pool was a popular stop among local businesses on the advertising solicitation rounds. But because Williams has long had its own recreational facilities, Sand Springs Pool has rarely loomed large in the minds of students. (it’s a separate business, the Sand Springs Bottling Company, that has provided Williams students with ginger ale, club soda, and  bottled water).

That said, the Greylock Hotel, which stood at the site of today’s Greylock Quad and the purchase of which triggered the ouster of President Dennett, thrived in part by catering to visitors to Sand Springs.  In his classic 1899 history, Williamstown and Williams College, Arthur Latham Perry noted that Dr. Frank William Olds of the class of 1876 (he was the Class Day poet and editor of the Gul) “highly commends for sanitary purposes” the waters of Sand Springs, because they were “the only water in the valley not impregnated by lime.” Back in 2000, a group of faculty proposed that the College purchase and operate Sand Springs, but the prospect was rejected by the Committee on Priorities and Resources:

Many professors have argued that the pool is an important fixture in the College community. On the most basic level, the facility is the only swimming pool open to the public in the town, and during the summer this is an important institution. Susan Dunn, a professor of French and long-time supporter of Sand Springs, stressed its importance for the College. “To attract good faculty, there have to be certain amenities, and a swimming pool for faculty with children is a necessary part of the quality of life in Williamstown,” she said.

James McGregor Burns ’39, a professor of political science emeritus, echoed Dunn’s sentiments. “Above all the pool is a benefit to the community, a place for enjoyment, a place where there are a lot of townspeople and faculty, where there is a lot of mingling between the college and the town,” he said. “Even more, it’s a wonderful place for children, an informal but beautiful place during the summer.”

The CPR considered these arguments and opinions carefully, according to chairman Bill Wagner… but ultimately the question at hand was whether the College should buy the entire facility. With an estimated price tag of $1 million, the sheer cost of such an undertaking was reason enough to beg off. The property would have to be acquired, the facility needs improvements to conform with the American Disabilities Act and maintenance fees would have to be earmarked annually.

According to Wagner, this would have been the second highest amount the College would ever have given to the town, the largest being the College’s recent support to the elementary school, totaling almost $2 million, and the next largest amount being for the present Spring Street project, a grant of $700,000.

Given current financial pressures, a rescue by the College seems even less likely today. As with the Store at Five Corners and Green River Farms, I hope a path to financial success can be found.

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