Victoria councillors agree to look at building new pool next to arena

Victoria councillors have pushed the pause button on building a new $69.4-million Crystal Pool replacement in Central Park beside the existing facility.

Councillors Thursday unanimously endorsed Mayor Lisa Helps’ recommendations that the city put on hold plans to build a new Crystal Pool in the park and instead take a closer look at building a replacement on the nearby Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre parking lot.

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In an interview prior to the meeting, Helps said the change of heart came following a meeting Wednesday with Graham Lee, owner of RG Properties, which operates the arena.

“He was very enthusiastic about having the swimming pool adjacent to the arena and saw the potential there for the heating and cooling exchange,” Helps said.

He sees potential for adding some form of high-performance training centre for elite athletes like Triathlon Canada, Helps said.

Lee also expressed interest in possible partnerships or collaboration with the city, Helps said.

The city has already spent about $2 million on planning and design of a new pool in Central Park to replace the 47-year-old facility.

Helps said much of the work that has already been done on the replacement facility can be used “for this potential project B.”

The city will now not make application for the first round of federal and provincial infrastructure grants, which it had been eyeing for the lion’s share of the project funding.

“Because of the potential energy-sharing between the two facilities, because of the potential private investment from RG Properties or at least some kind of partnership, there could be different funding options and potentially more funding options than we originally imagined,” Helps said.

Helps stressed that regardless of potential partnership opportunities, a replacement pool and recreation centre will continue to be publicly owned and operated.

“We made it very clear to [Lee] that it would be a publicly owned and operated swimming pool. I said that very clearly to him in the meeting and he was fine with that,” Helps said.

Helps’ recommendations will see the city:

• Complete the design work for the existing proposal and then push the pause button while it explores building on the arena parking lot.

• Ask staff to report back about a plan and budget for building the pool on the arena parking lot, including timelines, and amenity and partnership opportunities.

• Seek extensions for the $6 million in federal gas tax funding and $1 million in Canadian Tire Jumpstart Foundation funding it has already received.

• Continue to work with the federal and provincial governments to pursue options for funding of both options, including possible partnerships that may be available for a facility or complex with more amenities than only a swimming pool and recreation centre.

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

Helps said should the city be forced to borrow money to finance a new pool, it would be difficult to win a referendum if the North Park neighbourhood was lobbying against it.

She noted the North Park residents have also suggested that by building on the parking lot, the city could build more than just a pool. It could also include a welcome centre for refugees and newcomers, a community centre and recreation centre.

Helps said it’s difficult to speculate a timeline for an Option B pool replacement, but she would hope for a start before the end of this four-year council term. “It may be it’s an option that once we flesh it out a bit, it’s potentially not worth pursuing. Then we’ve got Project A to fall back on,” she said.

“I think this is the least risky option because if we pushed ahead with Project A, as I’m calling it, and we had to hold a referendum … and we had the North Park Neighbourhood Association campaigning for the No side of a referendum for a facility in their neighbourhood, that is very, very risky,” she said.

“It’s too big a risk to take.”

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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