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Telegram & Gazette (Massachusetts)

SOUTHBRIDGE - USA Pools Management of Georgia has been fired from managing the Andrew J. Petro Swimming Pool on Randolph Street for a "clear and material breach" of its contract, acting Town Manager Kevin E. Paicos said Monday.

The firing comes after reports of a safety violation that prompted town officials to close the state-owned but town-run pool earlier than usual on July 7 and keep it closed the rest of the week. It will reopen today at 11 a.m.

Mr. Paicos declined to elaborate on the nature of the alleged violation. Citing an ongoing investigation, he would only say there was enough merit to terminate the vendor's contract with the town.

By Wednesday, two days after the pool closing, a preliminary probe established that public safety "would be compromised if we let USA Pools continue to manage the site," the acting manager said.

A message left Monday with a secretary at USA Pools was not returned.

Mr. Paicos said the company had offered to send a new team of workers, but the town declined.

The company had about a half dozen workers here and was about halfway through a three-year contract. It was paid $80,000 after the first year, and was being paid approximately $70,000 this year, Mr. Paicos said.

"We'll be seeking damages against them," the acting manager said, "for return of town funds that they've been paid. We've made a partial payment for operation for the year. So they owe us some money. They may owe us some liquidated damages as well. All of that is pending negotiation. Hopefully there won't be a need for a lawsuit."

Other than for the past week, Mr. Paicos said, town taxpayers won't lose anything from the situation.

After the state Department of Conservation and Recreation was notified, the agency "stepped up" and dealt with staffing problems and pool maintenance concerns, Mr. Paicos said.

On Monday, the state agency began training people recruited from the Cops N Kids program and other organizations to work as lifeguards, pool workers and pool managers, Mr. Paicos said.

"All of those folks are being put through a certification program" that will continue through the week, and the hope is the state will have to maintain minimal presence by next week, he said.

"For the rest of the summer we should be able to maintain the facility ourselves," Mr. Paicos said.

He credited Recreation Director Ronald Plouffe for leading efforts to bring in a new pool staff and police Lt. Shane D. Woodson for heading the immediate investigatory work.

In addition, Tri-Community YMCA offered to run the pool for the town until the crisis was resolved, which Mr. Paicos called an "incredibly generous offer."

The town could not take advantage of the offer because DCR and the YMCA hold different standards.

Also, the Y being a third party presented procurement challenges that couldn't be reconciled quickly enough, Mr. Paicos said.

A $2 million renovation of the state pool, which had suffered significant leaking problems, was completed last year. At the state's request, the town agreed to manage the facility.

Pool hours that had been established for this season are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays and noon to 7 p.m. Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. Admission is $4 per day for Massachusetts residents and $5 for out-of-staters. Season passes are $60 for a family, $40 for an individual and $10 for seniors.

Contact Brian Lee at brian.lee@telegram.com Follow him on Twitter at @BleeTG

July 15, 2014
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