City council voted to permanently close the Four Seasons Leisure Pool on Monday night.
The move was expected to save the city roughly $150,000 to $200,000 in 2021, and potentially more once the building is demolished. However, it means when the Prince George Aquatic Centre closes for five weeks of maintenance from Sept. 7 to Oct 10 this year, again in 2021 and during the B.C. Summer Games in July, 2022 the public won't be able to access a pool.
"Ripping off the Band-aid and closing the pool might be the right choice right now," Coun. Kyle Sampson said. "I'm not saying it's a perfect option. We went from March to September with no pool. (Closing the pool) for five weeks of maintenance may not be the worst thing in the world."
In a report to council, city director of community services and public safety Adam Davey said the city budgeted $458,941 to maintain the pool in 2021, under the assumption it could reopen in 2022.
However, nearly $220,000 is in the form to transfers to other city divisions – primarily the city's district energy system – and maintaining the building in a safe condition still has costs, so the permanent closure was only expected to save $150,000 to $200,000 in 2021. Davey urged council to approve demolishing the building as soon as possible, likely early next year, to reduce further costs.
The permanent closure will mean less access for pool users until the new pool downtown opens in late summer, 2022, he said.
"With only one pool, user demand exceeds supply," he said.
Once the new pool opens, the Aquatic Centre will close for roughly four months to allow for a project to repair and improve the building to take place, he said. Without the Four Seasons Pool, the city will be down to a single pool until late in 2022.
"Pool rental groups such as the swim clubs will be negatively affected and potentially further hamper the ability to rebound from Covid-19 having already gone through reduced operations..." Davey wrote in his report.
In addition, the closure of Four Seasons will pose logistic challenges for hiring and training the roughly 55 staff needed for the new pool, he said.
Coun. Cori Ramsay said she doesn't expect the city would be in a position to reopen Four Seasons pool for much of 2022 anyway.
"Eventually we're going to say goodbye to this facility. I don't think it's realistic that we're going to have both pools open for a long time," she said. "I think it's good to get it over with, and move forward."
Coun. Terri McConnachie said the city is facing tough times, and has to make tough choices.
"I know that closing Four Seasons presents challenges," she said. "It's short-term pain, for long-term gain."
City staff will come back to council with details about the cost and timelines for demolishing the building.
City director of finance Kris Dalio said the city budgeted $7 million to purchase the new pool site, demolish the hotel building and demolish the old pool as well. However, there likely isn't enough money left to cover the cost of demolition.
"The sale of the land will far outweigh the cost of demolition," Coun. Brian Skakun said. "There is some good news here."
NEW POOL GETTING 'NINJA' COURSE
On Monday, council also voted seven to two in favour of adding a Ninja Cross obstacle course to the new pool project.
The $500,000 upgrade to the city's $36.75 million pool project will offer an obstacle course that suspends from the ceiling of the pool and challenges users with overhead, below and water-level obstacles. The system retracts when not in use.
Construction of the new pool is 25 per cent complete, and is currently on time and on budget, city acting director of civic operations Blake McIntosh said.
Sampson said the city could use some of the $10 million federal grant money the city received for the pool project to add the amenity.
"If we wanted to use $500,000 to better the the project, that's a good thing," Sampson said. "To use the remaining $9.5 million to get the cost down is a good compromise."
City votes approved borrowing $35 million for the project, and the Regional District of Fraser-Fort George contributed an additional $750,000.
Council voted to apply the remaining $9.5 million to reduce the amount of money borrowed for the project.
McConnachie and Coun. Garth Frizzell voted against adding the obstacle course upgrade.
"It's an exciting and cool thing," Frizzell said. "(But) I'm feeling a little conservative on this."