Counting Lanes

The Canada Games Pool replacement project is moving along. We have just completed a second round of public consultation, and one group have taken this opportunity to encourage the City to do more than the initial concept plan that resulted from the work to date. As they spent some time delegating to Council and have got quite a bit of messaging in the media (social and otherwise), I figured I would write a bit about how we got here, and my understanding of the request.

A couple of years ago, this Council made the decision to replace the Canada Games Pool (CGP) with a modern facility instead of investing tens of millions of dollars in replacing end-of-life components of the existing building and mechanicals. This has led to a lot of work on planning for a new facility, from figuring out what the “program” of the new facility needs to be, what it will cost, where it will fit on the site, and other technical and financial considerations. This has included two lengthy conversations with the public and stakeholders.

There are a few points that constrain our opportunities here. Council agreed with strong advocacy in the community that the existing pool cannot be torn down until the new one is built – we cannot afford to have a lengthy period without the swim programs and other amenities that the CGP provides. It was also determined that replacing the late-life Centennial Community Centre (CCC) at the same time would provide worthwhile synergies and assure continuity of programming. Finally, an extensive analysis of locations around the City brought the conclusion that the existing location had many advantages, and that the cost of moving the pool to a different neighbourhood just didn’t make sense, financially or for the disruption it would cause.

This is recognizing another limit on the current site, in that the front parking lot of the current pool was built on the upper reaches of the Glenbrook Ravine, which was filled in the 1960’s, burying a regionally-important sewer line under it. We cannot build above that sewer line (due to Metro Vancouver owning a right of way that excludes any construction), and moving it would cost a significant portion of what a new pool costs, so that further constrains the site. However, preliminary design and architectural work demonstrates that we can fit a decent-sized (~115,000 square foot) facility on the site immediately to the south and west of the existing pool.

Another thing Council did was tour new pool facilities across the Lower Mainland. We visited the Edmonds Community Centre, the Hillcrest Community Centre, the Poirier Complex, the West Vancouver Community Centre, and more. We also had an extensive tour of the current Canada Games Pool. On all of these visits, we are able to talk to the operators and project planners to talk about what works, and what doesn’t. Most interesting was to discuss what they would do differently if they were to start a pool replacement project from fresh. A few of us even scheduled a visit to a larger pool facility in Gatineau when in Ottawa last year, and have been tracking new pool facilities across the region to understand who is doing what.

Of course there have been a tonne of conversations here in New West with the pool user community, and people who don’t currently use the pool, but might like to except for its lack of serving their needs. There was both formal consultation and more informal meetings with stakeholder groups (such as the Hyack Swim Club). A few of us on Council also went out and did a few days of door knocking in the neighbourhoods around the pool to better understand what people think about the current pool, what they know about the replacement plans, and to hear if the budget freaks them out.

I have to say the most consistent feedback I received was that the current pool is not as inviting to families and community use as other more modern facilities. Part of this is the somewhat aged structure (described by some as dank and stuffy), but also the lack of play space and the colder water temperature (which makes it better for competitive swimming) that makes it harder for families to enjoy the space together. We also had feedback that the gym was too small and not comfortable because it shared humid and warm airspace with the pool. We also heard from a significant user group that they loved the humid, warm gym environment. A very small number of people valued the diving towers and the water slide, but most wanted more flexible spaces. The value of the pool as a community amenity and the programs run by our recreation staff were a consistent theme, but when it came to details, there was a wide diversity of opinions. I have no idea who you are reading this, but I bet at least one point I raised above is something you disagree with, as is the reality of public consultation.

The process to filter through this feedback included working with an architect experienced in building these types of facilities and measuring out what different program components would add as far as square footage and cost. The cost part, of course, includes the cost to build the facility, but also a business case based on the needs of a rapidly growing community. This means determining the capacity of pools, changerooms, gym facilities and such needed to accommodate (increasing) anticipated users. The operational costs are put into context of the potential for revenue generation and revenue growth. New Westminster is a relatively small city with challenging infrastructure needs, and it became clear that the budget was going to drive part of this conversation – we are going to build the best pool we can, but simply cannot afford to build everything that everyone wants. We knew hard decisions were going to have to be made.

Amalgamating the public feedback and other data, and coming up with a program to fit as many needs as possible, was a challenging process. The report on the first round of consultation and the reasoning that led to the proposed program, can be read here. It is this program that the City took out for a second round of consultation last month, and we have yet to receive a report back at Council about the results of the consultation; that is the next step here.

This is the background to the Hyack Swim Club’s appearance at Council to delegate on their needs and desires for the pool. I don’t want to put words in their mouth, but the message was that the proposed program is inadequate for holding the scale of meets that they think we can attract. We could still hold regional meets up to the level that the current facility can host, but we could not host national-level meets that are currently only possible at Kamloops and Victoria. In the media (social and otherwise) this has been characterized as requiring the addition of two more lanes, which sounds pretty minor, but there are hints it is more than this. So I’ll take a bit of time to put some context around that specific issue, recognizing this is at topic I am still learning about, so I stand ready to be corrected.

One big decision in any new civic pool facility is – do you build a 25m or 50m pool? The emphasis on fitness and lap swimming, including the legacy of the Hyack Club, is the reason the City suggested a 50m pool instead of a 25m pool (or even two 25m pools, which would be similar in cost to the one large pool, but provide much more user flexibility, which is the decision Richmond made with the new Minoru complex project). The demand analysis described above suggested that New West could meet anticipated swim demand by building a 25m 10-lane pool and a secondary leisure pool. It is the legacy of competitive swimming at the pool that led to the alternative 50m pool plan being considered.

The current pool is 8 lanes, and the proposed program would also be 8 lanes, with 2.4m lanes. The proposal also includes a much larger leisure pool that can accommodate some lane swimming, but also have the amenities people come to expect from a community pool serving families and other leisure users. So, contrary to some social media reports, we are not proposing a smaller pool that we currently have, but one with a functionally-similar main tank, and a significant second tank. It is my understanding (and I stand to be corrected here, as I have some reading to do!) that the Hyack Swim Club’s request is not just for two more lanes, but a deeper main tank, a much larger secondary tank with potentially less family / leisure useability, a significant increase in deck space for stands, and perhaps some other functional changes. The full proposal needs to be evaluated for fit and cost (capital and operational).

If I was to express frustration about this process, it is that the competitive swimming community always advocates for 50m pools whenever a new pool is built, but there never seems to be a pool built that satisfies their needs. Hillcrest and Grandview are just two recent examples of 50m pools that were built to accommodate a vocal competitive swimming advocacy group, but are(according to the presentations we received at Council) inadequate for competitive swimmers. The proposals for the new Harry Jerome complex in North Vancouver is going through a very similar conversation today (note – that “editorial” in the newspaper is actually a paid-for sponsored ad, which is its own weirdness), and I hear from the recreation operators that there are simply too many 50m pools being built in the region.

In summary, the conversation is ongoing here in New Westminster, and it is great that the Hyack Swim Club has been working to inform Council about their needs. I have had some correspondence from them since the Council delegations, and they have provided me some reading material to review. I hope to gain some better understanding about the details and (importantly) the business case implications involved in meeting the Hyack Swim Club’s expectations while not compromising what the rest of the community wants from a recreation facility. This conversation is not at all a setback for the project, but a perfect example of why we do public consultation. Our goal is (as it always has been) to have a project definition ready for when the Federal and Provincial government open the application window for infrastructure grants, and though there has been no confirmation of that date, we are in a good place to work out these details in time to make the window.

More to come!

8 comments on “Counting Lanes

  1. People in my family often describe the CGP as too cold and not family-friendly. They go to the Edmonds Pool.

    1. @KayJohnson, Agreed. While I would love a pool capable of hosting national swim meets right here in New Westminster, it cannot be to the detriment of making it much more accessible and family friendly like the Edmonds pool. And judging by what the councillor outlines in this piece, it seems sacrifices would need to be made. Sorry Hyack.

  2. Patrick. You have said a lot in this piece that is incorrect and misguided and a comment on this blog will be insufficient to counter them all correctly. If council would take the time to listen and observe we could all use the pool – Hyack Swim Club, expanded public swim and lesson programming. This should not be about cutting services or programs but enhancing them. The main points are:

    1. A 10 lane pool, 54 m in length with a warm up cool down portion would provide a 65 m long pool (similar to what we have now in length) but give the added benefit of swimming 25 m width wise. This in fact increases Hyack swim times by 400% but does not interfere with any public swim or lesson expansion. In fact this increase would pay for additional operating costs of the 10 lane pool.

    2. The warm up cool down portion can be heated separately so it can be used for warm water activities. A separate warm water pool would allow for continuous enjoyment by all. Hot tub and sauna would still be available for all to enjoy.

    3. The comment we are not satisfied is also incorrect. Depth of the pool has to be made a few inches deeper to satisfy safety requirements regardless of competition or use by Hyack. The current depth is a lawsuit waiting to happen.

    4. Swimming is the fastest growing sport in Canada and is ideal for those who do not wish to play ground sports such as soccer or hockey. There are 2.5 million youth in swimming programs across Canada. To block them from going to competitive swimming is short sighted and selfish. Perhaps we should start to decrease hockey rinks and soccer fields and plant flower beds instead.

    5. Statistics show that most people attend the pool for recreational swimming 6 times per year. Given the population in New Westminster for likely users of recreational swimming it will not support operational costs of the new pool. To replace the revenue that the Hyack swim club provides to the pool you would need to find an additional 24,000 users to make up the shortfall. That will not happen here.

    6. I do not understand the animosity towards competitive swimming when it enhances the life skills of so many young adults who go on to be long term users of the pool and often end up working as life guards. The bigger pool and the correct configuration would also allow Hyack to introduce synchronized swimming and water polo – again without interfering or limiting public pool use.

    7. There are many aspects of your blog that need addressing. The city needs a collaborative approach where we can all sit together and discuss how this $100 million project should benefit all. New Westminster has a legacy with this pool and to throw it away is very short sighted indeed.

    8. This last weekend we had 500 swimmers attend the Hyack Youth Cup Invitational race. This race is well known across Western Canada and we had swimmers from all Lower Mainland clubs attending along with swimmers from Saskatoon, Bellingham and Vancouver Island. If we start to shut down events like this in New Westminster perhaps we should also stop the Hyack Parade, Food truck festival and other events that inconvenience a small portion of residents. Where does it end?

    9. Population statistics show New Westminster has had a 94% increase in population since 1977. The pool has not kept up with this demand and to replace it with a pool the same size makes no sense. By 2041 the population increase is predicted to be a further 39%. How will this pool manage if it is not built to absorb this population increase? Unless New Westminster is prepared to build another large complex it will be over capacity as soon as the doors open – much like Edmonds Pool. We need to build for the current population with growth in mind.

    There are many more issues that need addressing but it would take up much more of your blog than you used. I really encourage you and city employees to sit down with user groups together to formulate a plan that works for all.

    Kind regards


  3. Councillor Johnstone
    Stake Holders:

    Hyack was never formally consulted in what was required for a modern day competitive pool, nor was it consulted in what could it do with a 10-lane pool. The only one on one meeting held between HCMA and the former president of the club were in the report – the only words that came out of the meeting were “if nothing changed would the present 8 lane configuration suffice?” it was a hypothetical question our club was asked, given the reality of no pool or a 25 m pool then obviously a 8 lane pool would suffice. It does not mean we could live with that. The most disturbing fact from this is that this meeting occurred 2 years ago. The architect/pool group had made up their mind long ago, before ANY public consultation even began of how this was to unfold.
    Stakeholders: we hear mention of stake holders. Who? other than Hyack, there are no users outside of the city program and the regular patrons. Public now do not presently attend are not stake holders. Staff are a stakeholder and they want a 10-lane pool.
    Non-regular public who claim the pool is not welcoming or any other negative comment are part of a group that will not significantly add to ‘regular’ attendance at a modern pool. They don’t swim or workout regularly at a center like CGP. A new one will not change that.


    the tour included only HCMA designed facilities. That’s a bit limiting….. no Canada Games Pool in Kamloops, the most modern Canada Games pool in BC. HCMA is showing only what it wants people to see.
    Again: NO discussion from HCMA in a formal way to understand the needs of the club, and the facilities toured are non-functional competitive pools. Mistake after mistake. Blind leading blind.
    HCMA is single handily turning modern funding for pool capital projects into recreation and leisure centers with no ability for competitions.
    You mention increasing usage with a new pool: how is this to be accommodated in a same size pool? It is already overused.

    Operating costs:

    No one has formally asked how Hyack can help bridge the difference in anticipated costs for the 10 vs 8 lane pool.
    You claim NW is relatively small: do not hide behind false stats: NW services a bigger area than South Surrey by the time the borders of Surrey, Delta BBY, Coq are considered. False stats.
    Operating costs: if we host a Western Championship ($5 million) or several provincials ($1 million per) we will have an economic impact for New West to more than make up operating costs for the community.
    You mention this is not a smaller water space: It is. areas that are shallow or have obstructions in them are not programmable space. Lazy rivers are not programmable.

    You mention frustration: you need to get your facts straight: Hillcrest took the place of the Percy Norman pool, a small 2- meter pool that hosted 2 competitions per month. It was replaced by Hillcrest, a pool that was never intended for competitive swimming. They banned clubs from the outset. The vocal group you mention are the competitive clubs objecting to being excluded. At least the old Percy Norman pool had competitions in it.

    North Vancouver and the new downtown Vancouver pool are both currently HCMA planned pools that the clubs in the present facilities are expressing major concerns with HCMA and the way they are being handled, similar to how the CGP replacement project has impacted Hyack. Recreational leisure pools that take away competitive opportunities. No deck space, inadequate pool tanks, and in the case of the Vancouver aquatic Center, complete removal of the diving towers (the only place to dive in LMR). This shows a complete lack of respect for the tenants of the facilities.

    You claim you hear from pool operators there are too many 50 m pools in the LMR. I would like to see the correspondence around that claim. The ONE commodity that public and swimmers alike seek is 50 m space!!!
    Referring to the newspaper report as defacto is a bit short sighted. The newspaper clips out aspects it doesn’t want to craft a story. Its not quite accurate.

    Hints that you are hearing that Hyack is wanting more than 8 lanes (10 plus deck space, plus depth of pool) is putting words in our mouths, we never said that. We want 10 lanes and are willing to help. Deck space, we were asked how much do we need with the 8 lane pool, we told you what you have wasn’t enough with the present design, let alone a hypothetical 10 lane. No one mentioned depth of the pool in any discussion. Of course, it would be common sense to make it the proper modern depths for safety and functionality. We never mentioned that though.

    The one place we see a 25 m pool being used as an example of ‘building 25 meter pool vs 50, is Minoru. That is a secondary pool in Richmond, much like Poirier is in Coquitlam. No objections about that here. Building a main pool as a 25 meter pool is not viable, you know that.

    There is no more 25 meter swimming competition in Canada except a few months of the early year season, and for small children. Competitive swimming is 50 meters. In addition, whoever told you a 10 lane 25 meter pool was adequate never came to CGP and looked at the present arrangement. We rent 12 lanes per day now!
    In the end, it is our youth who suffer.

    Hyack is a non-profit sports organization dedicated to the betterment of our youth. Surely this holds some weight.

  4. Mark and Paul,

    Thank you for your lengthy comments. It is important that readers can understand the position of the Swim Club, and not just read about this project through my own lens. As I said in my original post, this is an evolving issue, and part of the public consultation process, which works better if we avoid the accusatory language and deal with the points where opinions vary. If my comments are “incorrect or misguided”, it is not from lack of trying to understand the mixed messages I am receiving from the stakeholders in this process. This is not a great forum for debate, so I will limit my reply to a few comments, with the above caveats in mind. Most of these points are covered in the report I linked to in the post (and link to again here).

    There are many stakeholders in this project, including Hyack Swim Club (and I appreciate the White Paper that Hyack provided us back in 2015, and the other input we have received from Hyack). However, there are also other users of the facility, the the Parks and Recreation Committee. Add to this the organized groups that use the Centennial Community Centre, and adjacent land users like the Royal City Curling Club and the Justice Institute. The people of New Westminster who wish to have a pool that better meets their needs are important, not the least because they are going to pay most of the cost for building this pool. Ultimately, I answer to them, and pride myself is being able to provide them answers when I am asked questions (hence this blog!)

    The current pool has just under 250,000 paid swims a year, this is much fewer than the (much smaller) Killarney pool, and (similar to the proposed size) Hillcrest. Visits to the CGP have been going down for a decade. I don’t know how to rectify that with the assertion that the CGP is currently at capacity.

    My comment on New West being small relative to our neighbouring communities is not a reference to the pool user group (all pools are regional facilities), but to the people who are expected to pay for the pool. I cannot tax Coquitlam, Burnaby, or Surrey residents to pay the capital cost of the pool, and the economics of pools are such that user-generated revenue does not even cover the operational cost. I am OK with this, of course, because pools are the kinds of amenities that the public expects local governments to pay for through taxes because teaching kids to swim is a vital life skill, and providing recreational and sports opportunities are so important to our quality of life.

    This is why I take a bit of umbrage with some of the hyperbolic arguments being made that seem to suggest if we do not build a pool that exceeds all others in the Lower Mainland in the ability to host national-level meets, we are demonstrating an “animosity” towards competitive swimming or no longer support teaching swimming to youth. This false dichotomy is not truthful, and hurts our ability to respectfully discuss our options. We are trying to understand how best to fit the needs of all users into a limited budget and limited physical space. No-one in this discussion doubts the value of swimming as a sport or as a life skill.

  5. Patrick,

    I am simply surprise with your statement :

    “I hear from the recreation operators that there are simply too many 50m pools being built in the region.”


    I hope you (as a public representative ) will count a voices of pool users / swimmers – not a “pool operators”.
    We are living in rapidly growing community and experiencing limited access to pool lines even now , with 50M / 8 lines . 25M / 10 lines is not an adequate replacement even for existing 50M / 8 lines ( which can be counted as 25M / 16 lines ) .
    Please, fortunately or unfortunately – 50M /10 lines, sorry – no alternative, this is just 20% increase of existing swimming facility.

    Thank you for your cooperation.

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