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Crystal Pool replacement decision pushed to 2023, library central branch becomes priority

When Victoria councillors consider their 2022 draft financial plan this month, the Crystal Pool replacement project won’t be part of the discussions.
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Crystal Pool in Victoria on Quadra Street. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

When Victoria councillors consider their 2022 draft financial plan this month, the Crystal Pool replacement project won’t be part of the discussions.

Councillors have decided to push the project to the city’s 2023 strategic plan priority list, leaving it for the next council.

Thomas Soulliere, director of parks, recreation and facilities, told councillors at a July meeting that Crystal Pool was the biggest project in the parks and recreation portfolio, and staff were not planning to propose the project be initiated in 2022 given the other projects that had been endorsed in the past year.

Mayor Lisa Helps said the city had two big projects on the go and it was a choice between focusing on Crystal Pool or a new central library branch.

“We couldn’t do both, and Crystal Pool, because there’s not a decision about where the pool is going to go, we decided library this term, pool next term. And that’s something that the future council will need to take up,” Helps said.

The city is undertaking a $200,000 feasibility study to determine whether to redevelop or move the central branch of the Greater Victoria Public Library, which has been at its current location at 735 Broughton St. since 1990. The branch’s move to its current location was seen as a temporary at the time.

Helps said no movement has been made on the Crystal Pool replacement project since councillors decided in February 2020 to return to an original design for a 50-metre pool and fitness centre rather than start over and spend $725,000 on a new feasibility study. Staff recommended a feasibility study after council decided the summer before to start over rather than continue with plans to build a new facility next to the current one in Central Park, despite having already spent $2 million over three years in pre-construction planning and design.

The plan to build a new facility next to the current pool was opposed by neighbourhood groups concerned about a loss of trees and green space.

When councillors decided in 2019 to start from scratch, it was estimated the opening of a new pool was about five years away, a timeline that continues to stretch as work on the project is pushed to the next council, to be elected in October 2022.

The North Park Neighbourhood Association’s board said they’re not surprised or concerned that the project has been moved to the city’s 2023 strategic plan. The board maintains the project should not result in a net loss of green space and the new facility should not be built on top of the basketball or tennis courts.

Hugh Wilson, who has been swimming at Crystal Pool weekly for 40 years, said the facility is in fine shape and doesn’t need an immediate replacement, but he’s frustrated by how long the project has been going on. “I’d like to see it happen,” he said. “It’s good enough now, as long as we can keep swimming.”

regan-elliott@timescolonist.com