Crystal Pool project loses $6 million in grants

Victoria’s decision to re-evaluate where it should build a replacement for Crystal Pool will mean losing $6 million in gas tax grants.

In February 2018, the Union of B.C. Municipalities announced that the city had been awarded $6 million from the federal Gas Tax Fund for the project.

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The funding was contingent on the city acquiring the balance of funds for the project by March 31, 2019.

It failed to do so because council decided in November to revisit location plans rather than proceeding with applications for senior government infrastructure funds.

“This is not unexpected,” Mayor Lisa Helps said.

“I think we probably would have lost it even if the project had gone ahead,” Helps said. “Because there was no way we were going to have our federal and provincial funding confirmed by March 31, and the UBCM folks said that it wasn’t possible to extend the deadline.”

The UBCM has “received hundreds of applications from jurisdictions across B.C. for support beyond the available funds,” a staff report going to councillors Thursday says.

“Staff recommend communicating in writing to UBCM to acknowledge this situation in advance of the March 31 deadline, and allow UBCM to consider awarding this funding to other deserving projects in the province,” the report says.

Helps said the gas tax grant program is an annual one, so more funding will be available next year.

“Hopefully, our new and improved project will be even more appealing to the funding folks. It’s an annual fund so we’ll apply again when we’re ready,” she said.

In November, council instructed staff to revisit location plans for the $70-million pool project with the idea of possibly building the replacement at a site other than the originally favoured one in Central Park, adjacent to the existing building.

Staff have met with RG Properties about the feasibility of building the replacement pool on the parking lot adjacent to Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre. RG Properties operates the 7,006-seat facility, which is owned by the City of Victoria.

Staff were also directed to complete design development for the original site plan.

The North Park Neighbourhood Association, worried about the loss of green space and diminished enjoyment of Central Park, has identified the arena parking lot as its preferred site for a new Crystal Pool.

The city has about $10 million in reserves earmarked for the pool replacement, estimated to cost $69.4 million. It was hoping to have the bulk of the project funded through grants to avoid borrowing.

Helps has said that it might be difficult to get a borrowing referendum passed if the neighbourhood campaigns against the project.

The city already has spent about $2 million on planning and design of a new pool in Central Park to replace the 48-year-old facility.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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