Keep Crystal Pool open while new one is built: triathlete

A prominent triathlete is urging the City of Victoria not to close Crystal Pool at Central Park while its replacement is built.

In an open letter on her website, Karmen McNamara said “closing the facility for any length of time would be devastating for the community that depends on it.”

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Closing the pool for up to two years while its replacement is built on the existing site is one of the options being considered by Victoria council. However, councillors are also considering building the new pool beside the existing facility, the option preferred by city staff, or building on city-owned property outside of Central Park completely.

In a report that will be considered by Victoria city council on Thursday, staff warn that exploring options outside of Central Park — such as the parking lot next to Save-on Foods Memorial Centre or the Royal Athletic Park parking lot — could delay the project by six to eight months and cost an extra $200,000. It also could jeopardize the federal and provincial infrastructure funding the city needs to help pay for the pool replacement.

McNamara, who lives 500 metres from Crystal Pool, said that while volunteering with the Special Olympics swim team, she came to realize how essential the pool is for some of society’s most vulnerable members.

“For many low-income residents, or people with disabilities, Crystal Pool and Fitness Centre is currently their only option for recreation and community,” she wrote.

McNamara also has worked with runners from Every Step Counts, a Victoria Cool Aid Society-run fitness program for people experiencing challenges with mental health and addiction. She said she has witnessed how important access to recreation is for marginalized populations.

“The facility, with its Life Passes for low-income residents, means the difference between access to recreation and a lack of access for many at-risk people,” she wrote.

After a feasibility study and consultation process in 2016 — which heard from 4,400 pool users, area residents and accessibility advocates — the city decided to build the new $69.4-million pool facility adjacent to the existing pool, in the southwest corner of Central Park.

However, that option faced backlash from North Park residents who don’t want to lose the park during construction. That led the city to consider rebuilding on the existing site, which would close the pool for years. It also opened the door to two off-site locations.

While the design of the new facility is essentially complete, Mayor Lisa Helps said in October that more consultation needs to be done to ensure the project has “social licence” among North Park residents.

“The proposal that’s got the most amount of support in the North Park neighbourhood, as well as the Downtown Residents Association and the Quadra-Hillside neighbourhood, is to explore the option of rebuilding the facility in the Memorial Arena parking lot,” Helps said in an interview Monday.

The staff report to be considered by council analyzed the costs and benefits of locating a new pool beside the existing facility, on the existing pool site, on the arena parking lot or on the Royal Athletic Park parking lot.

Turnbull Construction Project Managers advised city staff that a comprehensive cost analysis of building the facility on property outside of Central Park would take six to eight months and cost $200,000. Staff are warning that this delay could jeopardize federal and provincial infrastructure funding because the application is due on Jan. 23.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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