AUBURN — Some of the money destined to buff up the city's newly popular Outlet Beach swimming area should wait until a water quality study is complete, councilors agreed Monday.
Councilors discussed $65,000 worth of proposed improvements to the area, including a water slide, a wharf, new playground equipment and bathrooms. But those improvements need to wait until water quality issues are settled.
"Before we spend too much, we need to make sure this is the appropriate place for public swimming," City Manager Clinton Deschene said.
Deschene said the Auburn Water District is performing the study this winter based on testing results from the previous year. He said he expects to find out when the city will have results later this week.
Auburn has no public swimming pools and the beach is one of the few public swimming holes. Swimming is not allowed in Lake Auburn since it is the city's water supply. But the beach is on the outlet between the lake and the Androscoggin River, so swimming has been allowed there.
Budget cuts forced the city to close the beach in 2009, and it remained closed until the summer of 2011.
The beach proved especially popular this summer, with Citylink bus service running a shuttle to the beach six days per week. But water quality problems forced the city to close it two times this summer after coliform bacteria, originating mostly from animal waste, was discovered in the water. The bacteria can cause minor skin and eye infections, gastrointestinal disorders and respiratory illness.
Deschene said the water report will determine if the outlet is the best place for the city's free swimming hole.
"We don't want to get out in front of that study and make improvements to the water and then find out we need to make other improvements," Deschene said.
Councilors agreed, saying the city should focus on making dry land improvements. That could include improvements to the restrooms, picnic areas around the lake and possibly new playground equipment.
Councilor Leroy Walker said he would like to see better sand brought in, transforming the waterside into an actual sand beach.
"At this point, no one is happy with that beach because it is not sand, it's grass," he said. "There is no place for beach volleyball, and that's something that's been asked for for 20 years."
Sharma also told councilors the beach costs the city $10,140 each summer. That includes $7,200 in labor for maintenance, $2,160 for water quality testing and $540 for water, sewer and electricity.