We had an extraordinary Council meeting on Wednesday, because we had some tough decisions to make. Well, really one big decision, and some accessory decisions will fall out of that.
The headline is that we have decided to not pursue emergency repairs on the existing Canada Games Pool, and will instead begin work towards its demolition. This was not a decision made lightly, as it has significant impacts on residents, staff, and budgets. It also breaking a commitment we made to the community about maintaining continuity of programming between the CGP and the TACC (təməsew̓ txʷ Aquatic and Community Centre), and we need to see accountability for not being able to follow through.
There are reports provided as part of the Council meeting that you can read here. If you want the details to address some of the speculation in the community, the facts are in there. I will try to summarize here, and let you know where my head is in making this decision – reminding you as always that I only speak for myself and not for all of Council or for the City.
The problem began a few weeks ago when we had torrential rains that overwhelmed the drainage system bypass designed to take all of the storm and sewer flow from the existing pool. The water back-up flooded a mechanical vault and messed up the mechanical and electrical systems that heat, filter, and circulate water to the pool. It also made it impossible to heat water for showers or run sewage, meaning the gym and fitness areas needed closing as well. While repairs were being undertaken, it became apparent that the pool was leaking. This is a bigger problem.
To find the source of the leak was a bit of a complicated process. It’s not just the concrete tank, it is the fittings for the drains and water supply system, and the 50-year-old pipe network that is underneath a big concrete water filled tank, so not really available for visual inspection. It involved pressure tests, scuba divers in the tank, isolating different circulation systems, dye tests, and systemically eliminating potential causes. There turns out to be more than one cause, but the biggest issue is a crack along the width of the tank where it goes from the shallow end to the deep one.
Once it was conformed the crack was actually losing water, there was a rapid but extensive evaluation of repair options, including bringing in outside experts for second opinions. Everything from epoxy in the cracks to re-lining the pool was evaluated, but the work required means draining the pool, which for complicated hydrostatic pressure reasons, can’t be done without groundwater management, which means drilling wells, then excavating the pool floor. A similar exercise was undertaken about 30 years ago, and it was not quick or inexpensive, as you can tell from the photos appended to the report:
So the decision staff and Council had to make was whether to go down this road. To make that decision we need to know the cost, the timing, and the risk. It is a bit complicated (its set out pretty well in the report, if you want to read it) but based on initial estimates of repair cost, and assuming that the repair could be affected in 6-8 months, the difference to taxpayers of us doing or not doing the repair is about $3 Million. The 8 month timeline is also based on some assumptions that may prove incorrect once we start the work. There was also a risk not just that the timeline would be extended, but that structural damage was such that the repair strategy simply didn’t work.
I appreciate that staff and our consultants were straight-up about this. Everyone want the pool up and running – the staff who work there, Council, the community. So there is a temptation to be engineering-optimistic to the point of Pollyanna about the proposed repair. But the reality is that any repair approach was going to be expensive, and uncertain. I think if we had a $100K repair bill and could guarantee it would be done by March, we would have pulled the trigger and gone that path, but that’s not the reality.
With the TACC scheduled to open in later 2023, and a potential for extensive repair to take 8 months, it came down to justifying the significant cost for what looked to be a decreasing number of months of service. It’s disappointing, but it was increasingly looking like we were throwing good money after bad, and the sunk cost fallacy, as tempting as it is, is bad governance.
So with CGP out of commission, we are looking at ways to provide alternative services, from re-arranging some gym equipment space and programming in to other spaces in the City to expanding the season and hours of both Hume and Moody outdoor pools. We are also looking to re-scheduling demolition work at the CGP to coordinate better with TACC construction. No doubt, this increases the urgency and importance of getting the TACC completed on time.
It is natural for the community to want to know why this happened, and even to speculate on some causes. Up to this point, the priority of City staff and contractors has been to investigate what was happening and gathering information about potential repair strategies so Council could make an informed decision as soon as possible. Determining the cause is part of that work, but not the focus. Now that the decision has been made, we can turn more focus to cause and accountability.
This is something that is sometimes hard to talk about in local government. We have contract relationships with consultants that spell out who is responsible for what; we have legitimate insurance and liability concerns that have an effect on the business of the City. Some of this info is protected by Section 90 of the Community Charter. However, in my comments in Council, I tried to make clear that the public needs accountability here. Fiscal impacts aside, the community has lost something – access to an important amenity, as end-of-life as it may have been. And the community deserves to know why. If this was a predictable and avoidable, I think we need to be transparent about why it was not predicted or avoided. If it was a fluke of geotechnical bad luck, I’d like to know what measures were taken to anticipate and avoid this turn. The community is going to speculate (New West is pretty good at that – we are an engaged and chatty community!), but the only response to that speculation is to get the right information out there, The City has an FAQ up here, and we will update info when we have info to update.
So in summary, this sucks. We really hoped that there would be continuity between CGP closing and TACC opening, but I think Council made the prudent fiscal and responsible decision. Following up on that, we have more decisions about alternate programming and staffing that will unfold in the next little while.