Splish splash the cash for a new aquatic centre?

A map for the proposed location of the new aquatic centre. Screenshot.
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City council discussed the design plans for the new aquatic centre at a council meeting on Monday.

The new project, which is set to cost anywhere from $52 million to nearly $64 million for the initial construction, is going to be one of the city’s largest capital projects for the next few years, and comprise a large chunk of capital spending in future budgets.

The project is forecasted to increase capital project spending by around 140 per cent in the 2022 budget compared to the estimates for the 2021 budget.

The City has received $12.9 million in federal funding for the construction of a new Aquatic Centre.

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Several different designs are being considered for the pool, either a six or eight lane 25-metre pool, or a six or eight lane 52-metre pool, which will impact the final cost of the project.

Operations and maintenance varied slightly depending on the size of the pool, costing $500,000 more per year to run a 52-metre eight lane pool compared to a six-lane 25 metre pool. 

Staffing was the biggest variable in operation costs, with the report adding it is hard to predict exact figures, because the number of staff needed depends on the number of patrons using the pool at any time — the city has guidelines on the ratio of patrons to lifeguards that can be in the pool at any time.

In public consultations conducted as part of the report, 58 per cent of 456 people surveyed are in favour of a 52-metre lane pool, 30 per cent are in favour of a 25-metre pool and 11 per cent of people are against any of the options.

 

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Why build it now?

The Ruth Inch Memorial Pool was constructed in 1987 and is “reaching the end of its useful life” according to a report prepared for the city.

The report says moving to build a new pool should happen soon, because construction costs for capital projects have been increasing in recent years. The report estimated a similar sized facility in 20 years “would cost the City approximately $160 million.

That’s why the report also recommends keeping the Ruth Inch Memorial pool as a back-up in case capacity demands increase.

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“It would be wise for the City to maintain the existing facility as an asset, so that it can be repurposed to meet a future City infrastructure requirement,” the report read.

But with an operating life of twenty five years, costs over the project’s lifetime, including energy costs for heating and maintenance costs, are projected to range from $96.3 million for a six lane 25-metre pool to more than $116 million for an eight lane 52-metre pool.

 

Capacity

The goal for the whole project is to arrive at a “sweet spot” of being neither too big nor too small for the active user group in Yellowknife, according to the report.

A 25-metre pool would roughly double the maximum occupancy of the facility, and “greatly increase the number of bathers who could comfortably swim at one time.” A 52-metre pool could accommodate almost triple the maximum occupancy of the Ruth Inch Memorial Pool.

From 2017–19, an annual average of 2,736 people were enrolled in courses. In 2019, an additional 825 were waitlisted – demonstrating clearly that user demand for programming was not met by the facility’s current capacity. Approximately 1 in 4 course applicants were waitlisted.

A 2018 PreDesign survey, found “Yellowknifers would be more inclined to use the pool if several issues with the existing facility were resolved,” according to the report. 

Those numbers anticipated a 20 per cent growth in the number of patrons if a new pool was built.

Council still has to vote on which of the design proposals will go ahead. 

Once the council decides the project will be prepared for tender. A public vote is then required to allow construction to move forward.

That vote is currently scheduled for October 2021. If approved by the public, pool construction is set to begin in spring 2022, with the hopes of being completed by November 2023, according to the report’s timeline.

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