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Beltline, Inglewood pools have options to remain open

Two inner city Calgary pools slated for shutdown at the end of this year may yet have life beyond 2019.

Councillors will be presented with site assessments at Wednesday’s Community and Protective Services Committee meeting that include lifecycle costs required to upkeep both the Beltline Aquatic and Fitness Centre and the Inglewood Aquatic Centre open.

Those assessments show roughly $6.2 million in deferred and lifecycle maintenance costs for the two facilities over the next five years. Councillors will also be presented with information that shows significantly fewer annual visits and higher subsidized cost per visit for these pools in comparison with similar Calgary facilities.

RELATED: Calgary councillor wants to save $4 million in lifeguard costs

“Look, we subsidize everything,” said Coun. Evan Woolley, who toured the Beltline site with community leaders, fellow councillor Jeromy Farkas and Calgary Recreation officials late last week.

“It was just the rate of subsidization was higher because you have old tired buildings. So, the numbers aren’t great. It’s an old, tired pool.”

Woolley simmers at the comparison of these pools with other similar facilities, like Rocky Ridge, he said. Those pools cost the city millions upfront, Woolley said, and while the don’t require as much subsidization, they will in 50 years – when they’re roughly the age of these pools in question.

Graphic from city report showing statistics for Beltline and Inglewood pools. CITY OF CALGARY REPORT

Beltline continues its population growth

Calgary’s recent census showed growth in the number of Beltline residents once again, with a bump of 242 people over 2018. Since 2015, the area has added 3,190 people – a roughly 15 per cent growth.

Woolley said many residents served in this area are a higher need Calgarians, like low-income seniors and Indigenous youth.

But it’s also a question of tax base in the area and whether recreation investments are being made back into the community, he said.

“So, it’s a real tough thing for these communities when their property taxes – very specific pieces of their property taxes – are going to pay for a new facility,” he said.

He said the city is examining a few alternatives to keep the facilities running beyond 2019.

Outdoor pools group eyeing operations

One of the organizations interested in potentially assuming responsibility for the operation of these recreation locations is the Calgary Outdoor Pools Association. They submitted a letter to the City outlining their interest.

Jenny Jensen, the group’s executive director, said their current roster of eight outdoor pools came about in a similar way to how the Beltline and Inglewood situation is unfolding.

“The original concept of starting the Calgary Outdoor Pools Association was because the City of Calgary was looking at closing four outdoor pools. So, this is a very similar circumstance,” she said.

Jensen said the non-profit group has had success keeping outdoor pools open across Calgary, primarily because their operation of the pools affords them the ability to handle lifecycle costs in a different way than the city.

The example she gave was in the case of a motor blowing. She said they’d repair the motor whereas the city may outright replace it.

“For us, it’s actually cheaper and easier,” she said.

They’ve been able to get to the point where they are doing some major lifecycle upgrades to some of their pools, but Jensen it wasn’t always that way.

“We took quite a few years of taking some very old pools, and I love to say using just duct tape, and keeping them working,” she said.

“I think that’s been that’s been our benefit, and that’s why it hasn’t it hasn’t been as expensive for us to run them.”

Jensen knows these are old buildings. But she would like to see the Beltline and Inglewood pools continue operating, even if it’s just until a viable replacement option could be hammered out.

Potential budget help for Beltline, Inglewood pools

Woolley said the city’s budget cut decisions were made quickly and didn’t allow time for community conversations like this to happen. He expects that come November, there will be budget amendments put forward that could provide answers for area residents.

“It’s pretty interesting that we’re closing down a community pool in this neighbourhood because we didn’t invest enough in capital or have a conversation about what the future of recreation is,” he said.  

“But we just gave $275 million to a private company, to invest in recreation, but now we’re telling my neighbourhoods that we don’t have money to invest the recreation opportunities for them.”