Regional focus needed for new aquatics facility: Fredericton council

Fredericton city council has agreed to take a leadership role to look into building a new aquatics facility, but have turned down the idea of building a temporary pool.

The University of New Brunswick is shutting down the 40-metre Sir Max Aitken Pool in the fall of 2018, putting competitive swimming and diving teams at risk.

In a report to council-in-committee Monday night, chief administrative officer Chris MacPherson said it's clear there will be gaps once the pool closes.

MacPherson said the city can help offset those gaps by expanding hours at the Fredericton Indoor Pool to accommodate more swimming time.

But building a temporary pool until a permanent facility could be constructed, he said, would not be fiscally responsible.

Mayor Mike O'Brien said a temporary pool would cost between $1 million and $5 million to build, and upwards of $500,000 a year to operate.

"It's one thing to find the capital to build something – you can borrow a bit or not do another project – but the operating cost is what you have to put into your budget every year. That's new money, we don't have that right now," he said. "Council doesn't want to look at raising taxes or cutting other services to offset a temporary pool."

But what the city can do, O'Brien said, is take a leadership role to look into the creation of a new aquatics facility.

Taking a regional approach

The mayor and several councillors suggested that there needs to be a regional focus on a project like this.

O'Brien said the next step is for the city to begin discussions with regional partners and the provincial and federal governments.

"There were some cursory talks with some of our neighbouring communities a while ago," he said. "The feedback then was they weren't willing to be a funding partner, but that was because it wasn't really official visits and it wasn't really working out as a major strategy."

O'Brien said there are concerns that surrounding municipalities might not be interested, and he understands they have their own priorities.

"Although I think they would all be sympathetic to the fact that the region could use another pool," he said, "and if we're going to do a pool, let's do it right."

Several questions remain, such as where an aquatics facility would be built, how big it would be, and where the money would come from.

But one thing that's certain, O'Brien said, is that a project of that size will take some time to put together.

"I'm not a wizard, I don't know how fast we could put something together," he said. "Council wants a new pool, but is it two, three, four years away?"

"The competitive aquatics users in the region, they have to understand there won't be a competitive pool, per se, for several years. That's a reality."