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Sportsplex has history of debate, turmoil

Even before the shovels were in the ground at 30 Knowlton Drive, waves of controversy splashed out from the Sportsplex’s core.

While the facility opened in December 1978, it was an announcement two years earlier that gave birth to what would become the multi-purpose facility that houses swimming, racquetball and hockey.

In 1976, it was announced that Brandon would host the 1979 Canada Winter Games.

Almost immediately after the announcement, two camps broke out.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 3/1/2014 (1323 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Even before the shovels were in the ground at 30 Knowlton Drive, waves of controversy splashed out from the Sportsplex’s core.

While the facility opened in December 1978, it was an announcement two years earlier that gave birth to what would become the multi-purpose facility that houses swimming, racquetball and hockey.

Competitors in the 200-metre freestyle heats take their marks on the block during the junior and 10-and-under Manitoba Swimming Championships at the Sportsplex in 2011.

FILE PHOTO

Competitors in the 200-metre freestyle heats take their marks on the block during the junior and 10-and-under Manitoba Swimming Championships at the Sportsplex in 2011.

In 1976, it was announced that Brandon would host the 1979 Canada Winter Games.

Almost immediately after the announcement, two camps broke out.

One side was comprised of some city councillors and community members who wanted to the facility built adjoined to the recently constructed Keystone Centre.

The other side was made up of city officials who wanted to see the $3-million complex on the North Hill.

A study by the city’s recreation director that year said the Sportsplex would lose no more than $50,000 a year, something Brandon University Prof. E.J. (Curly) Tyler disputed when talking to the Sun in February 1978.

I’d like to believe the city can operate the complex for $47,000. I’d love to be proven wrong. I’d jump right out of my skin if I was proven wrong. But I know I’m not wrong," Tyler said.

The debate about what the facility should look like and where to build it was finally broken when then-federal sport minister Iona Campagnolo warned Brandon’s Games organizers that if they didn’t get their act together, they would lose the event.

But the challenges were just beginning for the Sportsplex, which would eventually be built at the North Hill location.

In April 1978, again on the recommendation of the city’s recreation department, council rejected an offer by the YMCA to run the new facility’s pool.

Again, the cost of running the facility publicly was brought up as a reason to turn its management over to the charitable organization. Some councillors worried that the cost of running the Sportsplex and its other facilities at Curran Park would become too high for taxpayers to handle.

Further complicating the matter was a strike in 1978, forcing Kraft Construction to use non-union replacement workers to finish the job and ensure it opened by Christmas of the same year, just months before the Games.

Following a successful Games, the facility began to show some warts.

By 1984, the roof was already falling apart and a year later, the south wall was crumbling as the result of a vapour barrier being installed incorrectly.

The city would eventually sue Kraft Construction and UMA Engineering, settling out of court when the companies agreed to fix the problem pro bono. Despite the compromise, taxpayers still ended up on the hook for another $25,000 to fix the problem.

Less than a decade after building the Sportsplex, the facility was losing $250,000 a year.

Council spent an additional $171,000 on a new waterslide in 1988 as part of a bid to increase revenues.

By 2002, the facility’s annual deficit had doubled to $500,000 a year. On top of that, the south wall needed to be fixed again.

In 2010, then-mayoral candidate Shari Decter Hirst blasted council’s decision to close the pool.

In an interview with the Sun, Decter Hirst called council’s approach both "unilateral" and "autocratic."

"I think it’s huge disrespect to the city of Brandon," she said.

Then-mayor Dave Burgess was in favour of a one-pool approach, with that pool at the YMCA.

"Keeping the two facilities open, that’s not something I could support going forward," Burgess said. "It would be financial suicide (for the YMCA)."

More recently, the pool has been shut down a number of times for repairs.

In 2012, the pool’s main line pipe ruptured, something that was attributed to the line being too close to a piling cap when the facility was built. Pool plumbing vibrates slightly causing the line to break.

In 2013, the facility was budgeted to lose more than $1.1 million.

The city is also proposing to spend $1.8 million on the pool in 2014, with another $85,000 budgeted for pool design.

Meanwhile, public and lap swimming is down to approximately 4,000 swimmers from 6,000 from 2012 to 2014.

Aquafit numbers have also declined over the same time period. However, aquatic leadership courses have grown in popularity while swimming lessons have remained relatively unchanged.

» Brandon Sun

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