By Mike Dowling
Published: May 14, 2019
The new City of North Vancouver Council is determined to scale back the new Harry Jerome Community Recreation Centre (HJCRC) pool to a ten-lane, 25 metre pool, ignoring the recommendations, the planning process and consultations with the user groups and public hearings conducted over the past two years.
The proposed changes have been decided behind closed doors with participants under “gag orders”. A motion to approve the new plan was taken off the council agenda at the last possible moment prior to the public input section of the March 4 Council meeting. Public input participants were advised that they would not be able to speak again on the HJCRC for three months, strongly suggesting that there would be no further consultation, or public hearings.
Most declined to speak.
This process is not adequate or appropriate given the project scope, size and life expectancy and yet delaying it will be costly. About $2 million per month, and a three month delay could negate the savings from reducing the size of the pool from a “Crown Jewel” to a potential “White Elephant”. A thirteen month delay could negate all the savings from the cost reductions for the entire centre. There is a strong contingency plan in place and unused density valued at $100 M to further mitigate risk. The greatest risk is delaying and not moving forward with the original and well-considered plan.
Why is the 50 metre pool the “Crown Jewel”?
It has flexible capacity to allow public access and host water polo games, diving, synchronized swimming, underwater hockey, kayaking, scuba training, long and short course swim meets and so on simultaneously. This capability is minimally available in 25 metre pools and requires closing the pool to the public.
While it has only six more 25 metre lanes than the proposed 25 metre 10 lane pool, the 50 metre pool has more than twice the capacity of the 25 metre pool because of its movable bulkheads and floor.
In the last eight years, the incremental cost of the 50 metre pool has dropped more than 50 per cent thanks to the now forgotten efforts to clearly define the requirements.
Why is the proposed 25 metre pool a potential “White Elephant”?
At the time of the original consulting report in 2007, there were none in Canada. Today there are two. Net Operating Costs are about the same as 8 lane 50 metre pools, but their capacity is less than half. Fifty metre pools are much more efficient to configure and program than any 25 metre alternative. This fact is a huge benefit to the pool operators and all users. The 25 meter pool bulkhead option is unlikely to make much difference in programing flexibility, but will increase cost and risk for this untried configuration. The absence of a movable floor further handicaps the 25 metre alternative.
A strong public support
Public support for the 50 metre pool is very strong across the North Shore. The North Shore Aquatics Society petition has been signed by over 5500 people so far. Support is strong in the City, District and West Vancouver. Approximately 80% of those approached at Capilano Mall petition drives signed the petition. A recent canvass of 500 randomly chosen City residences resulted in a 90% signing rate. Additionally, Capilano University, North Shore Sports Council, North Vancouver Minor Hockey, North West Vancouver Ringette, North Shore Pickleball Club, Norwesters Track and Field, North Shore Triathlon Club, North Shore Trail Runners Association, North Shore Mountain Bike Association, local MPs and MLAs, Neptune Terminals and many more have publicly endorsed the 50 metre pool.
The District of North Vancouver is preparing to endorse the cost sharing agreement for the new Harry Jerome. What more needs to be done to demonstrate public support?
Contribution to the Healthiest City Initiative
The new HJCRC location adjacent to the Harry Jerome Neighbourhood Lands development, proximity to the Green Necklace bike and walkway, the Lonsdale transit corridor and the Upper Levels highway makes it a key component of the City’s Healthiest City Initiative. Everything about it encourages activity for those who are not yet active and opens up new opportunities for those who already are. The proposed 50 metre pool significantly enhances the Healthiest City initiative by providing cradle to grave opportunities for a broader spectrum of aquatics activities than exist now. It has significantly more capacity within a slightly larger footprint and offers hope that the gaps that exist in access to aquatics beyond swimming lessons and leisure activities can be filled.
Currently, school programs are almost non-existent. There is nothing to encourage aquatics activity other than swim lessons and swim clubs. There is very little diving, synchronized swimming or water polo. Young adults and families have no opportunity to partake in aquatics activities while their children play or take lessons. Swim Canada mandates that all National Qualifying times must be obtained in a 50 metre pool. This means that higher level swim club members must leave the North Shore for training and competition. Their absence from the North Shore diminishes the leadership and mentoring potential that they could provide to their less active peers. When the best are forced to go elsewhere, they enrich their new community at the expense of their old.
Typically 50 to 75 per cent of a community use the pools in their area according to NVRCC consultants. In North Vancouver, only 47 per cent of the population participates. This leaves plenty of upside to improve the health of the City. Furthermore, aquatics users deserve the same opportunities to participate in recreational and competitive aquatics sports as those who play hockey, ringette, soccer, field hockey, football, and other sports. All of this helps to broaden the appeal of aquatics and encourages an already engaged demographic to be active throughout their lives, not just as young children.
Mike Dowling is a member of the North Shore Aquatics Society