Pool swims into second decade

With the number of people using the Nanaimo Aquatic Centre in 2010 reaching close to the 500,000 mark, it’s no wonder staff at the Third Street facility are in a celebratory mood.

With the number of people using the Nanaimo Aquatic Centre in 2010 reaching close to the 500,000 mark, it’s no wonder staff at the Third Street facility are in a celebratory mood.

The centre – with its Olympic-size pool, wave pool, waterslides, fitness room, sauna and steam room, whirlpool, shops, meeting rooms and snack bar – opened June 2, 2001, and the public is invited to an open house today (June 4) from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. to mark the occasion.

Sandy Raddysh, city manager of aquatics, said if there is one thing the centre has done for Nanaimo in the last 10 years, it’s to increase the participation and awareness of aquatics.

“The one and only centre in Nanaimo was Beban with its small community pool and then we stepped up to a world-class facility,” he said. “We really are the envy of a lot of B.C. and Canadian towns to have a facility like this. Tourists are always blown away that a town the size of Nanaimo has something like this.”

The centre came with a $15-milion price tag in 2001 and was surrounded by controversy in terms of who should pay for it, where to locate it and whether a 52-metre, Olympic-sized pool was even necessary.

Nanaimo taxpayers wound up footing the bill and it was decided the Third Street location – with its easy access to the Nanaimo Parkway – was the ideal spot.

As for the size of the pool, Raddysh said there never even should have been a debate.

“It really needed to be that 52-metre pool. You get one kick at the cat with this,” he said. “Another facility was not in our 10-year plan after [the aquatic centre] was built and it’s probably not in our plans to get another facility built in the next 10 years. This was our one opportunity to get a 52-metre pool.”

The size decision has paid off for the city with not only hosting local, provincial and national swim meets, but seeing spinoffs from international events as well.

“The New Zealand national swim team held its pre-event training at the NAC for the 2006 Pan Pacific Games in Victoria,” said Raddysh. “It was neat to have an international-calibre team here in Nanaimo and that helps with our exposure.”

Along with events including the recent Synchro B.C. provincial meet and the B.C. Summer Swim Association provincials in 2012, the centre also plays host to Island swim clubs that need to train in a 52-metre pool.

“We’re becoming a real go-to place for these events which is fantastic,” said Raddysh. “It brings people to the city, puts them into hotel rooms and lets them seem what a great place Nanaimo is. The publicity we provide for Nanaimo is fantastic.”

Even with all the swim meets, the centre provides residents with their exercise needs and a little aquatic fun.

“If you’re an avid length-swimmer or somebody who likes to work out, then you just grab your bathing suit or your runners and off you go,” said Raddysh. “You don’t have to worry about schedules – you can just show up and know there is length swimming or the gym will be open.”

Close to 25 water-fitness classes are offered weekly, as well as classes in the gym and various courses and workshops in the two meeting rooms

Raddysh said there never seems to be a dull moment, but he had no doubt in 2001 the facility would become a success.

“It’s the old adage of ‘build it and they will come’, and that’s what happened here. I knew it was a great facility and we would get lots of attendance,” he said. “A facility like this just draws people into it and I’m happy it’s so well-used.

“It’s not that I’m thinking we’ve got lots of money coming through and we can pay the bills, it’s the fact that we offer this great service to the people of Nanaimo and absolutely everybody is welcome.”

A 10-year anniversary celebration takes place Saturday (June 4). Everyone is invited to the open house between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. There are no formal ceremonies planned, but lots of activities and events throughout the day.

The Nanaimo Aquatic Centre is at 741 Third Street. For more information, please call 250-756-5200 or visit www.nanaimo.ca.