Catalina Swim Club coach Shelbey Wells works with a young group of swimmers at the Michener Centre pool on Thursday afternoon.

Catalina Swim Club coach Shelbey Wells works with a young group of swimmers at the Michener Centre pool on Thursday afternoon.

Pool backers disappointed after project put on back burner again

Another joint multi-use aquatic centre committee is a waste of time because the need and support for the project has already been demonstrated, say its proponents.

Another joint multi-use aquatic centre committee is a waste of time because the need and support for the project has already been demonstrated, say its proponents.

On Tuesday, Red Deer city council decided to defer the proposed project’s fate until October 2014, after a new ad hoc committee determines the project scope and funding sources.

Grant Howell, vice-chairman of the Central Alberta Aquatic Centre group, said council’s decision during capital budget deliberations left him very disappointed and concerned for the community.

Howell said a joint committee has been working for more than two years on the project. And $200,000 has already been spent on a study. He questioned what more information a new committee will have in a year that they don’t have now.

“Nobody negotiated what kind of facility we need,” he said. “We did a study that came up with a number if you build it a certain way. Nobody said: ‘We can’t afford it this way. We can do it another way.’ ”

The group has been advocating for a multi-use centre for about six years.

Committee chairperson John Cuthbertson said it is a multi-use facility that will accommodate competitive swimming but is designed for Red Deerians.

The last council provided $200,000 for a concept and business design in 2010. Work was completed in 2011 and Rotary Recreation Park was approved as a potential site in March 2011.

Councillors Paul Harris and Lynne Mulder unsuccessfully argued to put the project in the city’s 10-year capital plan on Tuesday.

Mulder said she was extremely disappointed but the morning after she felt better because the purpose of raising the matter before council was primarily to move the project forward. She said the ad hoc committee will help attract corporate sponsorship, explore grants and fundraising strategies.

“It could have been a lot worse,” said Mulder. “We’re not face down in the water.”

Mulder said the city is on board to engage the community more than they have in the last six years.

While the Rotary Park location was selected, the uncertain future of Michener Centre land may come into picture. Mulder said there are some undetermined pieces of the puzzle.

The oft-quoted $90-million price raised flags for council because of its inevitable impact on tax bills and the concern the project would push other much-needed amenities to the back burner.

Howell said the price is more like $72 million or $75 million, with the four swim spaces (equivalent to four Michener pools) ringing in at $18 million each.

Stripping away the elements in the blueprints such as the splash park, dive tanks, landscaping and wave rider would reduce the cost further.

Councillors said they were uncomfortable putting the project in the capital plan without a concrete picture of public support, funding sources and in general they said they needed more information. Councillors said they heard mixed reaction to a new pool from the community on the campaign trail and in days since the Oct. 21 civic election.

A recent open house organized by the committee did not yield any naysayers. All three local school boards, Red Deer College, and local swim clubs have expressed support for a multi-use aquatic facility in Red Deer.

Cuthbertson attended the council meeting on Tuesday and was shocked to hear councillors had changed their tune since the election. In the weeks before the capital meeting, Cuthbertson said the committee spoke to some councillors and he sensed they would support the inclusion of the project in the budget.

Cuthbertson said before the election the councillors were on board but now they say need more information. He said all the information is out there already.

“I don’t know what else we can do,” said Cuthbertson. “We are prepared to go for another year and see what can be done. I am not positive about that but it’s reasonable.”

Howell said this is where council needs to show leadership. He said the timing of the project is right because of the historical low borrowing costs and the growing pool deficit in the community.

He said there are great things in the city that came with vision such as the Collicutt Centre, Westerner Park and the trail system. He said this council continues to talk about how things “cannot happen” instead of how things “can happen.”

Howell said he is also frustrated by the city’s lack of other social amenities such as museums and concert halls.

He questioned why the city is building roads around the city because of growth when those roads encourage motorists to keep driving on Hwy 2 instead of staying in Red Deer.

“If we put the right facilities here, we will do very well as a community,” he said. “Right now we are encouraging people to stay on Hwy 2. I see no plan for the city to address the social infrastructure deficits in Red Deer and that is more than just a pool. We need to do that for our people.”

crhyno@bprda.wpengine.com