Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Just keep swimming, just keep swimming...

The City just released our latest survey on Aquatics.  I voted to have this survey because it included components that other surveys did not, namely the full range of options available and most importantly, the costs associated with the options.  It's one thing to ask if you want a pool and another to ask if you want a pool, but it will cost you $200/year more in taxes.  It will help Council see where priorities lie.

I thought I'd break the options down in as simplest terms as possible and share some of my initial thoughts and questions.  I would like to receive plenty of feedback in order to make an informed decision.

1. Eastlink Centre upgrades

$1 - 1.5 million for a pneumatic lift to raise/lower the depth of the 50m pool (to allow for smaller children to use the space while allowing for it to continue to be used for lane swimming/competitions).  Also includes sound baffles (to reduce noise in pool area).

3. Bear Creek Pool

$1.5 million to rehabilitate the pool.

$60,000 required on a yearly basis for an operating subsidy.

3. Spray Decks

$0.5 million per spray deck.

$25,000 per year to operate.

2. The Leisure Centre

$9.5 million for capital upgrades to restore the pool, fitness centre and change rooms ($6 million has already been approved).

$1.6 - 3 million required on a yearly basis for an operating subsidy.


My initial thoughts:

Eastlink Centre

Let's start with an easy one...the sound baffles are a no-brainer.  It's way too loud at the Eastlink pools and the problem should be addressed...plain and simple.

As for the lift, my thoughts are dependant on the Leisure Centre pool.  If it goes ahead, I don't think the lift is needed.  If not, I think the lift would be beneficial as it would make the space more versatile, to be used for things like swimming lessons and fitness classes.

Bear Creek Pool

The outdoor pool has undergone a number of expensive structural changes over the last few years...and they have all been for nothing.  Our freeze/thaw cycles have again ravaged the pool's basin and have rendered our previous investments obsolete.  It's becoming a bit of a money pit.

The pool is also severely under-utilized.  It's only on the really hot days that we fill the pool up...and we know how many of those we get.  Most days it sits near empty.  While I cherished those few days a year I used the pool when I was a kid, I believe the pool's time has come.  I think the location could be best used as a splash park/wading pool, something like this: 

The pool was mainly used as respite from heat, and I think that a splash park/wading pool would accomplish the same thing, at a fraction of the cost.  It would also make the area more accessible to families with younger children.  I think we could have a lot of fun designing an awesome park with water cannons and dump buckets and all that jazz. 

Spray Decks

If the Bear Creek pool is no longer there to help escape the heat, I would like to see a couple smaller neighbourhood spray parks be installed.  It would be great for every quadrant of the city to eventually have a spray park so that you don't have to drive across town to get to one.  If you've ever been to Lion's Park on a hot day...you know how much they're used!

The Leisure Centre

I do not want to see the Leisure Centre mothballed.  I believe it's important to have a recreational centre in that area of town and it would be a shame to have it disappear.  My thoughts center around what the best use of the space would be.

I do have some questions about whether another pool is warranted at this time.  I had my suspicions that the Eastlink Centre was underutilized.  There are many times where you see the larger tanks with only a few people in them.  My suspicions were confirmed by a consultant's study on aquatics in GP.

The consultant found that the Eastlink Centre pools are currently operating at only 41% capacity and that they will continue to meet the aquatic needs of the community for at least 10 years.  If we added another pool, Grande Prairie would have by far the most aquatics capacity per capita of any city in Canada.

So if capacity is not the problem, what are the reasons for a second pool?

Play space for smaller children, more room for swimming lessons, and having a quieter facility are the three reasons that I've heard most often.  To address these concerns, the report suggested adding the lift to make the Eastlink 50m pool accessible to smaller kids and usable for swimming lessons.  They also suggested the sound attenuation baffles to quiet the Eastlink pools.  I think that these concerns could be allayed with the Eastlink upgrades.

So my initial thoughts are that the demand is not great enough to justify the costs.  Speaking of costs, let's take a look at a few things you need to know:

1. The capital costs of restoring the Leisure Centre pool are $9.5 million.  This is just to get the facility running the way it was.  So what you saw several decades ago is essentially what it's going to look like when it's done.  This is just a basic restoration, no major upgrades.

 2. Costs escalate...especially when restoring old buildings...particularly old pools.  In all reality, the final bill will likely be much higher.

3. Pools are one of the most expensive pieces of infrastructure that a city can operate.  Utility and staffing costs are much, much greater than other facilities and require a much larger taxpayer subsidy.  Remember, the $1.6 - $3 million yearly operating subsidy is how much we will pay as taxpayers, after all the user fees have been calculated in.

4. Unless the Leisure Centre pool will draw in a whole new market, opening another pool will draw Eastlink pool users.  This would mean less user fees for Eastlink, which would in turn increase the operating subsidy that the facility would require. 

So the question is this: are there going to be enough people using the Leisure Centre pool to warrant the costs?  If we're just pulling people who use Eastlink, we would be no further ahead.

So what could the space be used for if not a pool?

My initial thoughts are that the space would be better utilized as another type of recreation facility.  Every time I go to the Eastlink Centre, I see the field house and squash courts there are just packed.  I think there would easily be demand for another field house, expanded fitness centre, squash courts or some gymnastics and parkour equipment.  Some people have mentioned including some fitness options specially designed for people with disabilities.  You could include an indoor running track or other track and field options.  There are many, many possibilities. 

Any of these options would cost a small fraction of the cost of a pool and I think would serve a great need in the community.

One last thing:  the County used to give $200,000 a year to the Leisure Centre to help with operating costs.  This stopped once the Eastlink Centre was opened.  City Council will be asking the County to partner with us again with some yearly operational dollars.  If there was a significant commitment from the County to partner again, it would make the project a little more viable in my eyes.

As I've said, these are just my initial thoughts.  I look forward to seeing what the results of the survey will bring and look forward to discussing the topic further with residents.  Make sure you fill out the survey here.

Aquatics play a huge role in the lives of many GP and area residents.  As we plan for the future, I want to ensure that we have amazing facilities that meet our community's needs while ensuring we are being prudent with taxpayer dollars.



  1. Well, I agree with absolutely every point you've made with the exception of your ideas for the Bear Creek pool. I think it should be closed, no doubt, but I'm not worried about changing it into a wading pool or spray deck. Just let it go, for now. Other than that, you are bang on IMHO!!!

  2. Thanks for the input Rory, however my biggest complaint with the survey was the Eastlink question and the joining of two very different options (noise baffling and floor update) into one question. Even you agree with one but disagree with the other (as do I) How is it that council will get a good feel for thoughts when the survey is an all or nothing choice?

    1. This is always the trouble with surveys. Personally, I would have liked to have many more options out there. Outdoor pool or alternate options. Leisure centre pool or alternate options...etc. It then becomes really difficult to boil down the results as there can be hundreds of combinations of answers. So I think administration stuck to a more simplistic route, to give us a more defined idea of what people want. I agree that the two Eastlink options should have been divided out...they are different enough to warrant different responses.

  3. I think that changing the bear creek pool to a bigger spray park and wading pool is a great idea.

    I also feel the floor lift would be a good investment to accomodate people with disabilities and add more swimming lessons. As a parent, we have been on the waitlist for swimming lessons and know that the Eastlink center needs to meet the demand by offering more swim lessons.

    The old leisure center, sounds like it may be a waste of money. Unless the admission price is considerably lower and it doesnt increase our taxes significantly than it probably isnt worth the investment.

    I do know that there should be a budget for building a bigger indoor play gym. Often times it is overcrowded. For Grande Prairie being a family oriented community, a bigger space should be provided.

  4. I agree completely and I think turning the Bear Creek Pool into a wading pool is a fantastic idea! That was something that I felt Grande Prairie really lacked. I lived in Calgary for a few years and they had many wading pools to take your kids to and spend the day.