New pool: want or need?

A local movement wants to build an Olympic-sized pool for Red Deer as part of an effort to bring the 2019 Canada Winter Games to the city.

A local movement wants to build an Olympic-sized pool for Red Deer as part of an effort to bring the 2019 Canada Winter Games to the city.

The proponents of the new pool are very quick to note the Winter Games are only part of the reason to spend $90 million on a new recreational facility. They believe we have an urgent need for an Olympic-sized pool in this city, possibly so we can remain competitive with other Alberta cities in the lucrative field of major swimming competitions.

So far, the City of Red Deer has invested $200,000 to study the concept and do a cost analysis of the investment. The project will undergo a City Hall discussion and will be a big test for the new councillors because they will be part of the decision process for this major financial investment.

I would ask many questions about this investment before I agreed to commit this city to a very large financial decision if I was a member of city council. I would weigh my decision on a wants or needs scale to determine whether this community really needs to sink a minimum cash investment of $90 million into another recreational facility.

The committee states there are sometimes seven swimmers in one lane at the current facilities and Red Deer has 5,327 people per swimming lane with the current facilities, about double the numbers for comparable Alberta cities.

I would ask whether the per capita lane number is based upon the entire population of Red Deer or the number of actual swimmers in this city.

I would also find out whether the seven people/lane number is an anecdotal observation at a peak time or an actual consistent average.

The new pool concept has a few extra features like diving, surfing and whirlpools, whose primary function appears to be well outside of the realm of extra swimming lanes. If their role as actual swimming lanes is reduced, then I would question how these extra perks could be logically included in the urgent need to increase the number of swimming lanes.

The Collicutt Centre precedent leads me to conclude the swimming lane equation was swept away by a wave pool in that building and ask whether we are headed down that same lane in the new pool.

I would also question whether the Recreation Center renovation was a good investment and why tens of millions of dollars were spent to remodel it instead of simply bulldozing it in favour of a bigger facility like an Olympic-sized pool. It seems like we are teeing up another expensive recreational investment very shortly after two major renovation investments at other swimming facilities.

Another fair question might be whether the hours of operation could be expanded in the current facilities to handle the need for more swimming lanes.

Cost overrun should also be a big question about this project because it will be a factor, although the new term is “scope creep.” The new term is a sleazy way to say we gave you a ballpark figure and not a hard cost for a publicly-funded project.

The proponents of the new pool have bandied about the price tag of $90 million, yet there is no indication this figure is written in stone in any way, shape or form. The obvious question for city council is how much will this pool really cost and can you promise to stay on time and on budget?

My final question would be the operational costs for this new facility because people who will never use it will still be forced to subsidize it through their property tax and utility bills. The user fees will never carry the monthly tab on this facility, so the real question will be how much will it cost everyone to serve the recreational needs of the much smaller numbers of swimmer/stakeholders in this investment?

These are the questions I would ask when this new pool hits the table for discussion, maybe because I personally view it as a want in a city with many pressing needs.

Jim Sutherland is a local freelance writer.

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