Last Council meeting, we had an update report on the replacement plans for the Canada Games Pool, and a reporting out on the results of the last round of public engagement. I mentioned it briefly in my council report, but it is a big enough story that I thought I would flesh this out with a bit more detail, and share some of my thinking on this project.
Back in the spring, the City began this round of public and stakeholder consultation on the replacement of the Canada Games Pool and Centennial Community Centre. This came after two years of meeting with stakeholders, holding a pretty comprehensive public engagement process, work with program staff at the pool, architects, geotechnical engineers, and other subject matter experts. I talked about that first-phase work more in this Blog Post I wrote earlier this year, and at that time mentioned we were ready to take a draft plan out to the public based on that work.
As you may have heard, part of this engagement was a call from the Hyack Swim Club to build a more competition-oriented pool than the initial plans presented. Although the plans were developed with consultation with competitive swimming, which included a 50m pool length and a secondary pool that was amenable for warm-up and cool-down lengths, they did not feel the draft plan provided a venue that supported the level of competition their club could support.
Putting the wants of this user group aside for a moment, it is clear from the engagement that the program proposed closely matches the desires of the greater community that will ultimately pay for most of the new facility. The balance of aquatics and leisure swim space, the enhanced fitness centre, community flex space and gyms, and childcare facility are all well supported (in the end, we may need more pickleball space, but I’m not sure we will ever meet that demand!). So I am satisfied that the program we have proposed is the program we need in the community, and the public engagement results reflect that.
That does not mean this facility has everything everyone wants. Simply put, that was not possible, partly because we have a limited budget and buildable area on the site, partly because when you do comprehensive public engagement (see the 60 pages(!) of comments included in the report) you get a lot of contradictory requests. For everyone who wants, for example, a lazy river, there is someone who hates the concept. Parsing through this mixed data was a big task for staff, our consultant, and the taskforce.
I need to emphasize that the Hyack Swim Club was involved in this process from the beginning. Several meetings were held with their board and coaching staff, and their members were encouraged to take part in the public engagement process. From day 1 it was recognized that the competitive swimming community valued this asset, and as a regional community they are a vocal in discussions of any new aquatics complex in the region. There was no doubt that Hyack wanted as high-level a competitive pool as possible, up to a pool that would meet all Swim Canada requirements for the highest level of competition (something that currently doesn’t exist in BC, but is best represented by the $200 Million+ Pan Am Sports Centre in Toronto), and this led to some pretty significant discussion about how far we could afford to go that way while still meeting the desires of the community for a family-friendly recreational facility, within reasonable budget expectations.
The purpose of this stage of public consultation was to hear if the draft plans that came out of the planning process hit the target the community and stakeholders were looking for. In that sense, it was anticipated that some push back from some users on the draft plans would occur. I think we got there from the community viewpoint, but the stakeholder side clearly needed more work. That is why we do this kind of consultation.
Competitive sports facilities are, by nature, regional. Sports programming rarely respects Municipal boundaries, and just as competitive curlers from across the region come to New West to curl at the Royal City Club and MsNWimby goes to Coquitlam to play in a women’s ice hockey league that suits her competitive level (wait – neither of those facilities are run by a City… never mind, let me continue my story here), we need to expect that all Cities will build facilities that will be used by people from outside that City.
I also need to clarify that the request from the Hyack Swim Club is not just “two more lanes”, and though the swim fees paid by Hyack Swim Club are definitely a significant part of our operational revenue, they will certainly not offset the increased capital cost of a larger facility. The request for two more lanes, a larger secondary pool to better accommodate warm-up and cool-down length swimming, significantly increased “wet” deck space, and some level of “dry” spectator seating represents a significant cost premium. I (speaking as one Councillor, this is, as always, not necessarily the opinion of all of Council) am not willing to compromise the community amenities that the community asked for to pay for that cost premium. Ultimately, this is a case where the public engagement is vital to decision making, and I cannot ignore the wants of the larger community when building the most expensive asset the City has ever built.
That said, if we accept that higher-level competition is a regional asset, it is reasonable to expect that the region help pay for it. All along, the City has been working towards senior government assistance to build this facility, through the promised federal Infrastructure Grants program and affiliated provincial programs to support recreation and community assets and community reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. I think we have developed a program that will very closely meet the expected criteria for federal infrastructure funds. These, matched with provincial funds, may give us the financial space to build the expanded region-serving competitive facility, while not compromising on the recreational facility the community clearly wants, and not overly burdening our (still stretched) capital budget.
So the path forward the City has chosen is to continue to work towards an expanded facility that will support higher-level competition (one the Hyack Swim Club expressed unbridled support for at their public delegation last week), and the community recreation that the public engagement outlined, and hope that senior government grants will be sufficient to make it viable. We will continue to hold the current more recreationally-focused program as a fall back in the event we are unsuccessful in receiving sufficient senior government support.
The good news is that we now have a well-supported plan to move forward, and can do some of the extra work we need to do to get this project “shovel ready” enough to get those grants. To quote someone more profound than me: Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is the end of the beginning.
And I’ll write one more post about this pool in the next few days (yes, I’ll get to your question, Jason), but this one is long enough for now!