COLIN CORNEAU / BRANDON SUN
Half empty? Or half full? Jeff Elliott, facility manager at Sportsplex, looks on as the pool is refilled after a week-long repair earlier this winter.
Since its inception in 1978, the Brandon Sportsplex has been drowning in a pool of turmoil.
In this April 2011 photo, Mayor Shari Decter Hirst comments during an announcement that the province is spending $500,000 — with the city matching those funds — to refurbish the Sportsplex pool as part of Brandon’s efforts to land the 2017 Canada Summer Games. The bid ultimately failed, in part because the pool was deemed to be below national standards. At rear, from left: Swim Manitoba’s Darin Muma, Brandon Bluefins’ Darcy Smith, Brandon East NDP MLA Drew Caldwell and Premier Greg Selinger. (FILE PHOTO)
With the city proposing to raise property taxes by 2.85 per cent this year as part of a budget that includes spending $1.8 million to rebuild the beleaguered Sportsplex pool’s mechanics, some residents view the pool as half-empty rather than half-full.
Mayor Shari Decter Hirst, who in the 2010 election ran on a promise to keep the pool open, continues to be one of its fiercest proponents.
"The Sportsplex serves a very valuable role in the community," Decter Hirst said.
"It’s well attended for those people who want more than a recreational swim."
Prior to the 2010 election, the council of the day voted to close the Sportsplex pool.
Instead of continuing to operate the community-owned pool for a hefty loss, and in the face of major future infrastructure investments, council chose to invest in the new Dood Cristall Family YMCA.
As part of that deal, the city would have made an initial capital investment of approximately $5 million and contribute $250,000 annually to the facility.
The YMCA would have assumed all liability and maintenance of the new pool, saving the city money on one of its biggest recreational expenses.
After the election, the city changed course.
The new YMCA pool was completed last year at about half the size and capacity of the original blueprints.
It was all part of a decision to move forward with two smaller pools rather than one large one that could service the needs of the community and wouldn’t be owned by the city.
Today, the aging Sportsplex is in much need of infrastructure upgrades that include a new mechanical system, pool liner and waterslide.
The entire Sportsplex facility was budgeted to lose more than $1.1 million last year with a large portion of that coming from operating the pool.
"The Sportsplex didn’t get the amount of attention it needed in the past and now we have to bring it back up to par so that it continues to be a valuable recreational facility in the city," Decter Hirst said.
That lack of attention cost Brandon a chance to host the 2017 Canada Summer Games after the selection committee deemed the Sportsplex pool, which only has six 50-metre lanes instead of the required eight, was below the national standard.
Of note, the much larger, original YMCA pool designs didn’t have eight 50-metre lanes, either. However, it would have had eight, 25-metre lanes, something that was deemed passible by the Games selection committee as recently as the 2009 Canada Summer Games held in Charlottetown, P.E.I.
The CARI Complex, where those Games were held, only features 25-metre lanes as well.
Coun. Murray Blight (Victoria) voted to close the Sportsplex prior to the 2010 election. He then voted to keep it open following the YMCA’s decision to reduce the size of its pool.
"If I’m hearing right that the Y(MCA) is to capacity, so we really don’t have any other choice then to go ahead and accommodate the need for this facility," he said.
"I’m always cognizant of money spent."
YMCA CEO Lon Cullen said the facility’s capacity is 250 people.
He said the facility has reached capacity on several occasions, but often it is the ability to find lifeguards that might lead to restrictions on the number of swimmers.
While the original plan was to build a much larger complex, Cullen said the YMCA is committed to working with the city to service the needs of swimmers in Brandon and Westman.
"Our philosophy is complement, not compete with the Sportsplex," he said.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition January 4, 2014