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Town Discusses Necessary Pool Fixes in Public Meeting

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The Town of Swan River council hosted a community consultation on April 24, with the Town committee room approaching capacity as interested community members came to hear updates on the issues plaguing the Richardson Recreation and Wellness Centre’s (RRWC) Swan Valley Credit Union Aquatic Centre, as well as to express their opinions and ask questions regarding the changes in hours, fees, and capital plans.
“The purpose of this meeting is to get your input on decisions we are going to make with respect to the RRWC,” said David Gray, councillor for the Town of Swan River and chair of the recreation committee. “There has been no decision made. There are some alternatives we are considering.”
Gray reported that there were between 17,000 and 20,000 swims at the pool last year, which includes every visit whether it be from annual pass holders to daily admission.
“Last year, our actual expenditures on the pool were $764,264, and about $30,000 of that was spent in a lawsuit,” said Gray, referring to legal action that will attempt to recover costs from expensive alleged mistakes when designing and constructing the facility.
“Our revenue last year was $291,091 from all sources, and we are projecting a bit of an increase in revenue to $307,720 but obviously with a reduction in hours, that may be optimistic.”
The operating deficit – excluding principal and interest – was $474,173, which included the costs of the lawsuit. The interest cost was $176,625. A total principal reduction of $195,697 was also made in 2018, leaving a remaining debt of $4,359,055 as of Dec. 31, 2018, which is due to be paid off by 2035.
“There are three or four major pieces of repair that will cost somewhere between $400,000-700,000, and there really isn’t a lot of choice in doing that,” said Gray.
“We are going to confront issues and deal with them. That poses a particular problem for the pool because it has significant problems. There are significant damages and costs, some of which we caused ourselves, and some were caused for us, which is why we launched a lawsuit.”
Gray stated the estimated actual costs to be approximately $2 million, plus or minus 25 percent.
Most of the fees to use the RRWC are going to have modest increases, as management strives to reach a fairer balance between market value and actual cost recovery for providing services.
Daily fees will remain unchanged, as research seems to show that those fees were already comparable with other aquatic centres in the region. Most other fees are projected to increase by five percent starting Sept. 1.
A few examples of fees that are projected to increase at a higher rate are some rentals and other services where there is a clear cost recovery needed for services provided, such as in the case of a waterslide guard, of which the cost of renting will be raised from $25 to $30 per hour – a 17 percent increase.
A couple of examples of new, reduced hour schedules were also presented, both of which tried to close the pool to the public during statistically dead hours to reduce the number of staffing hours needed.
Gray also briefly explained a few details on the ongoing lawsuit that the Town has filed with the various designers, architects, engineers, builders, and material suppliers responsible for the development of the RRWC.
“It is unusual for a (five year old), $13 million building to need $2 million worth of repairs,” he said. “There are ways that the lawsuit is going that it could be better, but it is being advanced by an experienced trial lawyer.”
Gray assured the gallery that the necessary repairs will happen on the pool regardless on the outcome or longevity of the lawsuit. Otherwise, the integrity of the pool structure may be further compromised, and the costs will get even higher.
In addition to the $30,000 already spent on the lawsuit in 2018, Councillor Jason Delaurier added that the Town is budgeting for an additional $80,000 to go towards the lawsuit in 2019, with costs for future years dependent on how the lawsuit proceeds.
Speaking on the repairs needed in the RRWC, Gray mentioned the four most costly items are lockers, roofing systems, air exchange system, and the hot tub.
“The items we are looking at are the structural items, the air exchange system, and hot tub,” said Gray, adding that the repairs to the lockers are likely going to be deferred, as they are a less pressing issue.
Gray noted that part of the debate around the council table is how quickly the repairs should be done, and at what pace the costs are going to be passed on to the ratepayers. Many voices from the gallery added that it would be wiser to do the repairs quickly, to decrease the amount of down time the pool will have and get it back up and running sooner, especially before the problems worsen.
Finally, the floor was open for a few brief presentations that were authorized in advance, followed by any others from the gallery.
The first presentation was from SVSD Board Vice-Chair Gary Wowchuk and SVRSS Physical Education Teacher Jody Williams.
“The division has been very challenged with budgets lately, and have had to make decisions that have affected entire communities,” said Wowchuk. “Any significant increase in our costs for having students going to the pool would have to be taken into serious consideration.”
One proposal being considered was having the SVSD rent the pool and staff their own lifeguards for Phys. Ed. swimming lessons, which would shift the burden of the cost from the Town taxpayers to the SVSD taxpayers. However, due to the budget limitations of the SVSD, Wowchuk confirmed that this would likely end up in student swimming lessons being cancelled.
“We are not going to go to the taxpayer for a lifeguard, I can tell you that right now,” he said. “We would have some serious discussions at the board room table.”
Williams added that this would be unfortunate, as Manitoba has a high rate of child drownings, and the SVSD has a lot of students that come from low-income families that likely wouldn’t be able to take private swimming lessons on their own.
Other presentations focused on the importance of keeping the pool open and available to those that need it, such as dedicated lap pool swimmers, and aquasize attenders, citing the significant health benefits that water activities have had for many people.
In closing, the council members and administration present representing the Town showed their appreciation for the input of the community members that attended, and would take the answers they received into consideration as they make their decisions.

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Jeremy Bergen
REPORTER
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