Crystal Pool referendum to ask public whether to borrow $169M, choose between 2 locations

Crystal Pool referendum to ask public whether to borrow $169M, choose between 2 locations

A referendum on whether to borrow money for Crystal Pool and where the new facility should be located has passed its first hurdle on Thursday.

Victoria’s committee of the whole unanimously voted to hold a referendum posing two questions to voters — whether the city should borrow up to $168.9 million to build a new recreation facility to replace Crystal Pool, and whether the new facility should be built in Central Park North or South.

Victoria staff recommended the pool be built in Central Park North, which is the current location of the pool. This would mean Crystal Pool would be closed for approximately 41 months while construction takes place, though staff recommended relocating the dry land activities to Crystal Gardens.

If the facility was built at Central Park South, it would allow the existing facility to remain open during construction, however, staff noted the pool is already near “catastrophic failure” and the nearby construction and blasting would likely result in the closure of the facility anyway.

Staff noted New Westminster had tried a similar approach when it was replacing the Canada Games Pool, but it had to close shortly after construction on the new pool began due to discovering a leak in the main pool tank.

On top of the $168.9 million, the committee of the whole directed staff to use $17 million from the city’s Parking Reserve Fund to pay for the parking-related costs for the project.

READ PREVIOUS: Crystal Pool replacement project could finally move forward this week

During the discussion of the options for the location of the pool, councillors noted they would like to hear from the public about which option would be preferred.

“I think it is only reasonable to include a second option on this referendum, so that we give voters the option to decide where they want this facility to go,” Coun. Jeremy Caradonna said. “This is a decision that is too big for nine people to make. We work for the public, and we need direction from the public.”

Staff noted that Central Park North would be the lowest cost and also the shortest construction duration. The entire timeline for Central Park North is 62 months, with the first 21 months being the design phase, followed by demolition – which would take eight months – then construction taking the remainder of the time. The cost would be around $209.2 million.

Central Park South would have a 15 month design phase, and 52 months of construction, with demolition of the current facility happening in the 49th month to line up with when the new pool would open. Parking wouldn’t be available until end of the 52 week construction phase. The cost would be around $215.9 million.

For both projects, staff proposes using $30 million from the cost reduction reserve. Staff will also be pursuing grants and other funding options to reduce the cost, so the amount to be borrowed proposed in the referendum would be the maximum amount, assuming no grants or other funding was received.

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Mayor Marianne Alto noted this project has been in the works for a long time, with several previous councils punting it further down the road.

“I, too, wish we had made this decision in 2017, if we had we would be swimming in the pool by now and for those of us who were there at that point, that was a profoundly disappointing time,” Alto said.

READ PREVIOUS FROM 2020: Victoria’s Crystal Pool replacement project may start all over

“Having said that, others have remarked on the challenging times in which we are presented with this decision and the fact that our public have given us, in my view, a variety of opinions on what’s important to do right now. I’m not 100 per cent certain that this is the right time to be expending $200 million on a recreation centre. Having said that, I am content with putting that question to the public.”

If the Crystal Pool referendum motion is passed in council, staff said it imagines it would take at least six months for all the procedural steps to take place, and the earliest the referendum could take place would be in the first quarter of 2025.

The final design of the project has not been finalized, but a focus of the new facility would be to improve accessibility for people with disabilities, and to have roughly one third (35 per cent) more space for services like expanded fitness areas or multipurpose rooms.

The municipality also wants to make it a green rec centre, noting that the current Crystal Pool is a one of the city’s “largest emitter of greenhouse gasses.”

There would also be an emphasis on making the space feel welcoming, with multi-use spaces that can be used for both mental health and physical health programming.

-With files from CHEK’s Adam Chan

Laura BroughamLaura Brougham

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