Back to square one for new Crystal Pool; $2M already spent

The Crystal Pool replacement project was nearly ready for construction, but Victoria councillors have now decided to go back to the drawing board.

That means the opening of a new pool is probably five years away, according to the city’s director of parks.

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Victoria councillors essentially want to start from scratch on a replacement pool, after three years of preparations and $2 million in spending.

On Thursday, councillors directed staff to re-evaluate the objectives, scope and schedule of the project, which has a preliminary price tag of $70 million.

Mayor Lisa Helps said council “heard very clearly” from the neighbourhood that the original plan, which involved building the new facility immediately adjacent to the existing pool in Central Park, wasn’t suitable because of the loss of green space and trees.

“You cannot force an infrastructure project on a community,” she said. “Unless there’s community support for a community facility, there’s no point building it.”

Both Helps and Coun. Marianne Alto, council co-liaison for the North Park neighbourhood where the pool is located, said some of the design work will be applicable to the new project.

“I like to think that none of the work that has been done is completely lost,” Alto said.

The council direction means staff will be “taking a fresh look at the key objectives of the project, including scope and siting,” said Thomas Soulliere, director of parks.

“The project to date has been about three years to get to this point. If we look at construction, it’s a 2 1Ú2 year-ish build once we get through all the design and consultation and whatnot. So it’s probably safe to say we’re a good four to five years from opening.”

That’s a far cry from the 2021 opening projected when the city issued a request for design proposals in 2017.

It also means the city will have to invest money into keeping the existing 50-year-old facility operating.

“You can expect to see some investments in the 2020-2021 budget in particular, as we’ve been holding off investments,” Soulliere said.

The council direction comes on the heels of a presentation from North Park residents, who used census data to back up arguments that a replacement facility should be located in the Hillside-Quadra or North Park neighbourhoods to best serve the most vulnerable in the city.

“The equity lens is an incredibly powerful tool,” Helps said, noting community feedback suggests a new pool wellness centre might include child care, space for community gathering or a welcoming centre.

“There’s a lot of science and economics out there that investments in general well-being cut down on health-care costs and policing costs and all of those things.”

Previous suggestions for pool sites have included the Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre parking lot across Quadra Street from the existing pool, then the Central Middle School playing fields, when staff were unable to reach an agreement with RG Properties for the Memorial Centre parking lot.

North Park residents argued the replacement pool should be north of Pandora Avenue in North Park or the Hillside-Quadra area.

Nearly a quarter of the 2,000 adults residing downtown and in North Park live in poverty, with similar numbers in Hillside-Quadra. Poorer neighbourhoods are also generally park-deficient, so facilities shouldn’t be built on green space, they argued.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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