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Plans for pool's future floated for city council

City councillors were presented with pricey pool proposals Monday.

Council had to decide whether to renovate and expand Ruth Inch Memorial Pool, or plow ahead with a new pool, deciding between 52-metre and 25-metre options.

At $41 million, renovations and a 25 metre pool appears to be the cheapest option on paper, and would also spare the costs of maintaining an extra building. However, it would be closed for about a year-and-a-half during the renovation. A 52-metre tank would bump that cost up to $48.7 million.

Gabriel Leclerc heads for the wall during one of his butterfly races in the Konge Construction Spring Meet at the Ruth Inch Memorial Pool on May 12. NNSL file photo

The other option is a new building with a 25-metre pool at $47 million, or a 52-metre pool primed to meet high user demand, but that costs about $54.7 million. That would also mean another building to insure and maintain.

Council, with the exception of Coun. Niels Konge and Steve Payne, voted to discuss the issue further in a meeting in early January, where they'll provide consultants with instruction on whether or not to expand the project.

“If we continue on the current course where (consultants) are only directed to look at the 52 metre pool, then the team will come back to us with an estimate. If at the point we have sticker shock … what I would predict is we would end up sending them back to do another analysis of a cheaper option,” Coun. Shauna Morgan said, explaining she wanted to stay the course with the new pool, while evaluating options.

To avoid that added delay, she said, it would be helpful to explore options. Mayor Rebecca Alty agreed, adding she wanted clear comparisons of differences in programming and costs between the two facilities.

Coun. Niels Konge, meanwhile, was unwilling to shut down the existing facility for expansion and renovation, which he said wouldn’t enjoy widespread support.

“I’d like to continue down the path we’re on without too many detours,” he said, leading Coun. Steve Payne to back his comments.

He was wary of introducing another possible delay to the long-developing pool update.

“This pool — you can call it a ‘can’ —has been kicked around a circle now for a long time,” he said. “We need to make a decision on what path we want to go down. Whatever the decision is, as long we start moving this forward instead of kicking this can around in a circle.”

He said the city pool committee found issue with the renovation plan because of the length of time the pool would be out of commission.

The facility is popular, he said, citing a 300-person wait list for swimming lessons, adding that when the swim club held open try-outs, there were 200 kids. Optimally under its time constraints, the club has room for 85 kids, which can be stretched into the 90s, according to Konge.

He said the committee concluded there would be basically three bodies of water in the 52 metre pool: a warm pool for lessons, and a 52 metre pool that can be split into 25 metre halves.

On top of that, he added, further delay carry a significant cost.

“If we had done this a year ago, we would have saved our taxpayers $3 million dollars. That’s the cost of waiting. Every year. Three million bucks. So while we think about waiting, think about three million dollars. That’s a lot of money,” he said.

Coun. Julian Morse, supporting exploring further evaluations, was concerned over what would become of the old building if a new pool was built — especially on maintenance, which he said would ultimately be the real burden on taxpayers. It's also unclear if the old building would have a buyer.

“We’re talking like that building isn’t going to exist anymore. It is,” he said, explaining he was worried about it becoming a “white elephant.” That is something expensive, but largely useless.

Retreading old talks

Renee Lelievre, a former president, current treasurer and longtime board member of the Polar Bear Swim Club, has three kids in the program using Ruth Inch Memorial pool.

She said the last City committee has already addressed cost concerns around the various options. "There was no reports back at that time that showed it'd be of more efficiency to renovate what we currently had," she said.

"That discussion, in my mind, has already happened and has been dealt with and talked about," she said, calling it a "redundancy."

It feels like that work and previous information has been put on the "back burner," according to Lelievre.