Crystal Pool should be publicly owned, says Victoria councillor

Victoria councillors could be diving into the public-private debate surrounding the Crystal Pool replacement tonight.

Coun. Ben Isitt is bringing forward a motion calling on city council to affirm the “public ownership and operation” of any Crystal Pool replacement.

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Isitt notes that the former council in October 2011 confirmed by resolution that it “supports retention of a public pool and fitness centre in Victoria.”

That resolution, however, wouldn’t necessarily preclude a private-public partnership. If Isitt’s resolution is endorsed the only grant and partnership options for the city would have to be “consistent with the public ownership and operation of a pool and fitness centre in Victoria.”

Isitt believes the public loses in private-public partnerships.

“Right now, affluent members of our community can purchase private recreation services. They can go to the Y. They can go on holiday. They have recreational property,” he said.

“Those are facilities that cater to specific demographics — often the most affluent demographic. Where the Crystal Pool and other public recreation centres come in is that they cater to all demographics.”

Crystal Pool is more than 40 years old and receives $1.2 million a year from the city’s operating budget. It is in need of major repair or replacement. Basic repair of the mechanical systems has been estimated at $6 million, while replacement would be in the $58-million range.

A detailed assessment in 2011 found all of the pool systems were at the end of their useful life.

City council has adopted a project charter for public engagement about developing options for the facility.

Coun. Lisa Helps called Isitt’s resolution “the wrong motion at the wrong time,” especially in light of the public engagement that’s about to begin.

“I think to pre-determine now what the outcome is, I think is kind of like bargaining in bad faith,” Helps said.

To interpret “public” in council’s 2011 resolution as meaning publicly owned and operated is “shenanigans,” Helps said.

Another interpretation could be “a public facility that is open to the public much like public parking is open to the public,” she said.

“I want to hear from the people who are going to pay for the pool, whatever we decide to do, before I make a decision on what the best way forward is,” Helps said.

Coun. Geoff Young said his support for a public pool in 2011 didn’t rule out some sort of partnership.

“The idea of partnerships is one that I am prepared to be open to,” Young said.

Mayor Dean Fortin sees Isitt’s proposed motion as simply a reaffirmation of council’s 2011 resolution.

“I think having a public pool is absolutely important. I cannot see a for-profit model for a pool,” Fortin said.

Coun. Shellie Gudgeon supports the idea of having Crystal publicly owned and operated.

“I hope that we can work with CUPE to find an effective and efficient model of operation,” Gudgeon said. “I don’t think privatization is the way to move forward with the recreation facility.”

CUPE Local 50, which represents city workers, has been lobbying hard for public ownership and operation of any Crystal replacement. The union has even paid for keeping the pool open on recent Family Day and B.C. Day statutory holidays.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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