Crystal Pool replacement project could finally move forward this week

Crystal Pool replacement project could finally move forward this week
City of Victoria
An early rendering of the pool is shown. May 30, 2024.

After years of delays and setbacks, there may finally be progress on the Crystal Pool replacement project in Victoria.

It’s been nearly a decade since the city first launched the replacement project in 2016, with an original goal of opening in 2020.

However, the project saw several setbacks over the eight years and three councils since then, the most major being the start of the pandemic in 2020.

Now, a feasibility report has come back to council, and if it’s approved at a Committee of the Whole meeting on Thursday, June 13, then city staff will begin preparing for what will likely be a referendum, where Victorians will get to vote on if the city should borrow up to $179.2 million to build the new Crystal Pool and Wellness Centre.

Timeline until now

The Crystal Pool was built in 1971, and was the first place in Greater Victoria to have a 50-metre competition pool.

But in the 53 years since, the pool has been in need of major repairs, and for the past six years, the city has only been signing off on the most critical repairs to maintain service, until a long-term plan for the rec centre could be established.

In February 2023, the current council asked staff to identify three or four potential sites for a new Crystal Pool and Wellness Centre, and prepare for a referendum that would ask voters if they approved of the city taking on long-term debt to build the new facility.

The city’s design consultant, HCMA Architecture + Design (HCMA), identified three potential locations: Replacing the current site, dubbed the “Central Park North” location – building a new facility where the adjacent playground and sports courts are located, dubbed “Central Park South” – or building one at the parking lot at 940 Caledonia Ave., beside Royal Athletic Park, dubbed the “Caledonia” site.

The consultant assessed the three locations and determined that building a new rec centre at the current site, in Central Park North, would be the cheapest option, and could be completed in the shortest amount of time.

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The estimated time in months that construction would take for each site. June 7, 2024. (City of Victoria)

“Minimizing the overall duration of the project has significant benefits,” reads a report submitted to council on June 7.

“Reducing the length of construction will reduce impacts on the neighbouring community resulting from noise, movement of materials and other construction-related activities. Shorter project timelines also minimize project risks by managing cost escalation due to inflation and disruption to global supply chains.”

Timeline for a new pool

If Victoria council goes with the recommendation from city staff and HCMA and approves construction of a new Crystal Pool at the current rec centre site, construction could start as early as 2025, with an opening date in 2029 or 2030.

Before that, council would have to approve the borrowing bylaw of up to $179.2 million, then put that number to the public as a referendum.

The referendum would outline the proposal and amount that needs to be borrowed, and then if the majority of eligible voters (51 per cent or more) approve, the municipality would be able to proceed with borrowing.

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The estimated timeline is shown. June 7, 2024. (City of Victoria)

Project cost

Building a new Crystal Pool at the current site is the cheapest option of the three potential sites, according to consultant HCMA.

To replace the current building, it would cost an estimated $209.2 million. Meanwhile, building a new rec centre on adjacent park land at Central Park South would cost an estimated $215.9 million, while construction at the Caledonia site would cost roughly $232.9 million.

Regardless of which location is chosen, the city will also throw $30 million at the project from its Debt Reduction Reserve to reduce the amount that would need to be borrowed.

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June 7, 2024. (City of Victoria)

“The financial strategy anticipates property tax increases over four to five consecutive years, depending on the chosen site,” reads the staff report.

If the Central Park North option is chosen, the average household would pay an estimated $256 per year in taxes over the four to five year period, while an average business would pay $660 per year.

In 2017, then-Victoria council approved a $69.4 million budget for the replacement project.

That cost has nearly tripled over the past seven years, largely due to rising construction market costs – like material and labour costs – since the COVID-19 pandemic.

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June 7, 2024. (City of Victoria)

New pool amenities

The city says 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.

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An early rendering of the Crystal Pool lobby is shown. May 30, 2024. (City of Victoria)

(City of Victoria)

What happens to the pool during construction?

Regardless of which location is chosen by council, city staff recommend that rec centre programming be moved to Crystal Gardens while construction of the new pool is underway.

HCMA said that while it would be possible to continue offering programs at the current Crystal Pool if a new building were to be constructed at the Central Park South or Caledonia sites, it would be expensive and complicated for the city to maintain these programs while also carrying out construction.

It adds that the city would still be on the hook for critical repair costs at the existing rec centre if it keeps it open while construction is underway.

No aquatic programs would be available if services are temporarily shifted to Crystal Gardens, but the consultants say closing the existing facility during construction would save the city $8.1 to $9.6 million during construction, and minimize risks of something at the aging facility breaking down.

The full feasibility study report can be found here.

With files from CHEK’s Laura Brougham

Adam ChanAdam Chan

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