“Overall this report determined that the demand for aquatic space in Brandon is very strong and will support two pool facilities to serve the community and surrounding catchment area.”
— Sportsplex facility manager Jeff Elliott
With all due respect to Mr. Elliott, we’re having some trouble squaring his quote above with a piece of information that came out during his report to Brandon City Council on Monday night.
Elliott’s report on the Sportsplex pool followed an audit conducted in 2013 that outlined the need to upgrade the facility’s mechanical systems to meet current Manitoba Health code requirements.
He told council that the best course of action, as agreed upon by the City of Brandon, Manitoba Health and the design engineering firm, is to replace the pool water circulation system, the pool air handling unit, tile the pool tank, install grating over the irregular pool edge and replace the bulkhead.
As the Sun reported yesterday, Elliott said the project “must move forward in a timely manner” for Manitoba Health to continue to support the operation of the Sportsplex pool.
The city is required to submit an upgrade plan to Manitoba Health no later than May 1, and the current operating permit expires on May 31.
Yet in spite of Elliott’s insistence that the need for the Sportsplex aquatic space is “strong,” that’s not really borne out by pool usage numbers, which suggest that while the Sportsplex has seen growth in several programs, public swim attendance has decreased since the Dood Cristall Family YMCA opened.
No surprise there — most people would prefer to use a shiny new facility rather than an aging one for their non-competitive swim time. But there’s a logic disconnect here — if public demand is going down, then the need for aquatic space is simply not that strong.
And yet this council still doesn’t seem to mind throwing good money after bad. Council approved a recommendation Monday night to secure engineering services to begin the first step in the pool’s redevelopment at a cost of $286,300, with the estimated cost for total upgrades pegged at $2.7 million.
As far as we’re concerned, that’s a really optimistic estimate, considering it may take a while before the upgrades could be made, and costs keep rising.
In a letter sent by Manitoba Health regional manager Stéfane Gravelle to the city last month, provincial officials noted the aging infrastructure is to blame for degraded water quality and a lack of sufficient water recirculation, treatment and air ventilation rates.
Gravelle stated that his department has noted water treatment and maintenance issues for some time, but were not forcing the upgrades on the city because the future of the pool remained in doubt.
“However, we have not required those upgrades to be undertaken because the future of the pool was undecided,” states the letter.
If that’s the case, then councillors were aware of the future expensive renovation needs to the pool when they voted to continue operating the facility back in 2011 — or they should have been.
And so, after the city blew its chance to leverage Canada Games cash to upgrade the facility to an eight-lane pool, now councillors are talking about going back to the province for a handout because the Sportsplex is a regional recreation facility?
The province would have been at the table during the Games discussions, when outside cash was on the table. But expecting the province to foot the bill now, when the Games will be held two hours down the road is absurd, especially with an NDP government that’s fiscal books are swimming in red ink.
That makes council’s decision to continue operating the Sportsplex pool even more questionable. Do we really want to spend the money — provincial dollars or otherwise — to upgrade a facility that will never meet national competitive standards?
As we have said before on this page, this city has a growing demand for an indoor facility catering to soccer, cricket and other similar sports. Without the complex piping, pumping and heating requirements of a pool, and without caustic chlorine fumes and water everywhere, the deteriorating Sportsplex pool space would make an excellent candidate for a much-needed fieldhouse.
Ironically, that is precisely what the previous council had determined before the current mayor and council were voted in.
While we note the upcoming May 1 deadline, if it were up to us, this council would defer making any decision on future upgrades to the Sportsplex pool until after the October municipal election.