I want to thank everyone who participated in the survey and who have engaged with me in one of the many conversations I've had on the subject.
By taking into account the survey results, the consultant's report on aquatics, discussions I've had with our Facilities department, and the engagement I've had with residents, I have several thoughts going into Monday's vote.
Here they are:
1. Bear Creek Pool
It is very obvious that many GP residents want an outdoor aquatics option. 65% of survey respondents indicated they wanted to see it re-opened. I would like to see the re-opening of the pool.
To me, it is not a question of "if" it should be re-opened but rather "how" it should. I still think that a wading pool with a splash park would be of greater value to the community and would be cheaper and more accessible to a greater number of residents. The pool is over 50 years old and I think it's time to look at how an outdoor pool can best serve a population that has grown by 700% over that time.
Example of wading pool in Lethbridge, AB
2. Eastlink Centre Upgrades
This one was a bit tricky to read. I think the survey should have separated the sound baffles and the movable floor into separate questions. While 70% of respondents did not want the upgrades, in the 53 pages of comments, there seemed to be lots of support for the sound baffling. As the noise level is the number one concern I hear from Eastlink visitors, I will likely be supporting the sound baffle expense.
I think we could have done a much better job of explaining what the purpose of a movable floor would be. In any case, there hasn't been much support for this option and I don't see it as a high priority at this time. Depending on the outcome of the Leisure Centre pool, it may be something we want to look at in the future.
3. The Leisure Centre pool
There was no clear consensus on what should be done with the Leisure Centre pool. Nearly a third of respondents wanted it opened strictly as an 8 hour a day programmed facility (swimming lessons, fitness classes, user groups). A third did not want it re-opened. And just over a third wanted it opened for a full 16 hours to include programming and public swim times.
It's clear that there is an appetite for a smaller aquatics centre. It is also clear that residents are concerned with our high taxation levels and want to ensure our service levels are appropriate for the population we support.
I agree that a smaller aquatics centre would be a benefit to our community. For me, it is a question of timing and the most responsible use of taxpayers dollars.
With that said, I think that refurbishing the Leisure Centre pool would be an irresponsible use of taxpayers dollars. Our Facilities department has indicated that the $10 million rehab cost will likely balloon to between $12-15 million once all the dust settles. Old pools are highly expensive to restore and maintain and it is estimated that the capital and maintenance costs will be in the $30-35 million range over the next 10 years.
This is just for a basic rehab to get the facility running again...no significant upgrades.
To put this in context, Beaverlodge just built a brand new facility for $11.6 million which includes a swimming pool, leisure pool with therapeutic uses, a fitness centre, a multi-use space and an indoor walking track.
I also believe that there is still a great deal of swimming capacity left at the Eastlink Centre (see last post for more on the details). In fact, if the Leisure Centre pool were to reopen, we would have the greatest level of pool capacity per capita in Canada.
As this is the case, I think that the Leisure Centre should be re-purposed for other uses. I mentioned in my last post that there are variety of ways in which the space could be used (field house, track & field training, squash/racquetball courts, indoor skate park, specialized fitness facilities for seniors and people with disabilities, and so on.) Any of these options would cost a small fraction of the cost of re-opening the pool.
I believe this option would give a greater number of residents more choice in the recreational options they can pursue. It would also be more affordable for people as users fees would only be a fraction of those at the Eastlink.
The consultant's report on aquatics mentioned that GP would be able to viably support a smaller pool in 10 years time. I think that the growth projections used in the study were very conservative though and we could likely support a smaller pool sooner than that. I feel that it would be a wise course of action to plan for a new facility in several years time. This would provide better long-term value for taxpayers and would better align the City's service levels with the population we support.
On Monday night I will likely be voting to re-purpose the Leisure Centre for other recreational uses.
4. Spray Parks
55% of respondents were happy with current spray parks. 45% wanted either 1, 2 or 3 more. I think we're well served for the immediate future. I would like to see one or two added to our 10-year capital plan though to meet the demands of our growing population.
Again, thank you to everyone for your input. It was awesome to see so many people engaged on these issues!