As the province opens back up, swimmers want another pool open as soon as possible, and city councillors have now given the go-ahead.
Councillors, at a finance and audit meeting Wednesday, June 13, voted unanimously to recommend that council direct staff to prepare to re-open Beban Pool on Oct. 4.
Mayor Leonard Krog said the pool’s continued closure has been the subject of significant correspondence to council. Nicole Barberie, president of the Nanaimo Diamonds synchronized swim team, addressed council on behalf of pool user groups, said Beban Pool is one of only four aquatic centres in B.C. that hasn’t re-opened during the pandemic, with the other three in Surrey.
“I’m completely aware that pools are very expensive to run and that user fees do not cover operation costs, but I think they are a vital service to the citizens…” she said. “Most of the communities in B.C. understand that.”
A city staff report noted that with all indoor swim programming being held at the Nanaimo Aquatic Centre, “user groups have had to adapt to decreased space, less availability of time and reduced number of participants” but added that “every effort was made to accommodate every type of individual and group usage.”
Barberie said swim organizations’ registration ranged from 0-45 per cent of typical registration, and noted that the Diamonds and the White Rapids and Riptides swim teams were unable to offer learn-to-swim and development programs.
“These clubs are all likely to make a full recovery over the next few years with the hard work of their volunteer organizers,” she said. “There’s a much larger safety issue at stake here affecting mostly children and people with physical challenges, and that is the massive hole that COVID-19 has left in water safety education.”
Lynn Wark, the city’s director of recreation and culture, noted that city aquatics staff travelled to outdoor swim locations to provide education outreach during pool closures. She said there will be challenges in working toward the Oct. 4 re-opening date.
“There are a lack of certified lifeguards now and it’s difficult to get training to certify lifeguards,” she said, mentioning many staff moved on because the city was unable to keep casual workers employed.
There are also budget uncertainties, as the city did not budget for any operating costs for Beban Pool in 2021. Wark said although many individuals and swim groups have indicated there is demand to re-open Beban Pool, parks and rec has “no way of knowing” how many people will return to pools when they are allowed to return to pre-pandemic operations, which could be as soon as Sept. 7.
“It really depends how comfortable people are getting back to normal in their lives,” Wark said.
A city staff report noted that a “best-case” scenario, with revenues at 100 per cent of 2019 levels, would result in $99,000 in budget savings for 2021. If pool use reaches only 75 per cent of 2019 levels, there will be an $84,000 shortfall and if only 50 per cent of pool users return, the shortfall will be $266,000.
Coun. Jim Turley asked staff if swim groups were receiving any special treatment as far as access to facilities and was advised that all other city sports facilities are open with use limited only by provincial health orders.