Voters to decide on Crystal Pool replacement

WATCH: The Crystal Pool replacement decision is going to referendum so Tess van Straaten takes you behind the scenes to show you why stakeholders say a new pool makes the most sense.

Victoria’s Crystal Pool is a popular spot but after four and a half decades, she’s starting to show her age.

“We spend a lot of time and money doing repairs every year,” explains Thomas Soulliere, Victoria’s director of parks, recreation and facilities.

The facility, which was built in 1971, also isn’t very wheel-chair accessible.

“We have stairs down to the children’s pool, which is an impediment, and it’s just not designed for the way we use facilities today,” says Soulliere.

The iconic domed roof, which has been fixed numerous times over the years, now needs an expensive replacement and the fitness spaces are within the pool area, which means the fitness equipment has to be replaced frequently due to the wear and tear from the humidity.

But what patrons don’t see is even worse — corroded pipes and aging boilers, also in need of costly replacements. 

“We’re looking at figures over the next 10 years that would be required in the range of $10 million, so quite extensive work needs to be done, and it relates to our H-VAC system, our plumbing system, the roof structure, the drainage system, all of the tiles and the mechanical room,” Soulliere says.

The total refurbishment cost is pegged at $41 million so Victoria Council decided a brand new, expanded fitness centre for $69 million is the better option.

“It makes sense economically to build a new pool,” says Victoria mayor Lisa Helps. “We looked at three different business cases and the best value for money is a new build and secondly, we heard loud and clear from citizens they didn’t want the pool to be closed during a refurbishment.”

The facility, which is the only public pool in the City of Victoria, gets 400,000 visits every year and swim teams, sports clubs and school and community groups reply on it.

A new pool good be built beside the existing one but refurbishing the current facility would mean closing the pool for about two years and that would take a toll.

“It would be devastating,” says aquafit instructor and Friends of Crystal Pool chair Alison Smith. “I have no other pool that I could go to. There is no space at other facilities unfortunately and the study did show there is a need for more pool space in the CRD.”

The research showed up to 140,000 more people would use a new facility.

The issue will now go to a referendum for Victoria voters to decide.

“If you do the arithmetic, it’s cheaper to build the new pool which will last 50 years than it would have been to renew this pool for only 30 years,” says pool user Pauline McCullagh. 

“I think it’s great as long as we don’t use the 50 meter length,” adds long-time pool user Pat Kenney. “I think it’s essential because you have more and more teams that don’t fit into Commonwealth.”

The City’s already saved $10 million and because it’s a regional facility and Helps says there is a good case for provincial and federal funding.

The rest would need to be borrowed but Helps says it won’t be a repeat of the over-budget Johnson Street Bridge boondoggle.

“The Johnson Street Bridge is an iconic bascule bridge not built anywhere else in the world but local governments build swimming pools all the time,” says Helps. “They’re very standard projects, there’s more certainty and we’ve built in a massive $13 million contingency.”

If voters approve, construction on the new pool would begin in mid-2018.