Sunday, April 23, 2017

Frustrations With the Eastlink Centre

Over the last week I've received a great deal of feedback on the scheduling changes for the aquatic area of the Eastlink Centre. As a user of this facility with my wife and son, we have also been negatively impacted by these changes.  The community is frustrated and rightfully so.

So why the reason for these changes?

By now, most people have heard that there has been a shortage of lifeguards at the Centre. Between sickness and resignations, it has been difficult to have the proper compliment of staff required at all times under the previous model.

This model of "spontaneous use" meant that most areas of the Centre were open and available for public use on a drop in basis for most of the day. This created quite a bit of flexibility for users.  However, this model can be challenging for staffing requirements, particularly when there is a staffing shortage.

Pools have strict requirements for the number of lifeguards required to be on duty based on type of amenities, pool depth, sightlines, number of users in pool, etc. With a spontaneous use policy that has all the aquatics areas open, a minimum number of lifeguards is required, no matter the number of users in the facility. As more users enter the pool, more lifeguards are needed.

This creates a challenge when you are in a position of having limited staff. Areas have to be shut down to reflect available staffing levels. This was really frustrating for people accessing the pool, because you would show up and some areas would be open, some wouldn't. Sometimes you would be turned away because the pool was at capacity based on the number of lifeguards available.

The uncertainty this caused was a huge headache for users. This uncertainty was somewhat mitigated with the incessant stream of updates on social media. However, I think this frustrated users even more.

So why the change?

To address this uncertainty, it was decided to move away from a spontaneous use policy to more of a programmed schedule like the Leisure Centre used to have. This would allow Eastlink Centre staff to direct the limited staff resources more efficiently. This would also give users more certainty that when you show up for public swim, you won't be turned away.

As more lifeguards are trained and hired and staffing levels normalize, this policy change will be reviewed. This is a temporary change to address an unfortunate situation.

But how did we get in this position in the first place?

Eastlink Centre in crisis again. Seen that headline a few times in the last few years.

I don't want to play the blame game about how and why we found ourselves in this situation. As a City Councillor, it is one of my responsibilities to hold our City Administration (through our City Manager) to account for how they respond to a crisis and to evaluate their response from a community perspective.

Our new City Manager and Senior Administration have made righting the Eastlink Centre ship a top priority and have directed much time and resources into creating this temporary fix.  More importantly, they are working on addressing the longer term structural issues that have given rise to a number of issues at Eastlink Centre.

To that end, there are significant steps being made in the training and recruitment of lifeguards. There is also going to be a larger role for shallow water attendants who can patrol certain areas of the facility. Going forward, a nation-wide search for a top calibre General Manager has commenced.

The Eastlink Centre is one of the  premier attractions and rec facilities in Northwestern Alberta. I often hear from out-of-towners how lucky we are to have such an incredible facility. This is why it has been a Council priority to make sure this multi-million dollar investment is delivering the service residents and user groups expect.

I greatly appreciate all the feedback I've gotten from residents on this topic and I encourage you to keep Council and Eastlink Centre staff informed on what your expectations of the facility are.

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