Over the next two years, Inglewood residents and the city will chart the future of recreation in their southeast Calgary community, including the fate of their much-loved flatwater pool.
This, after the facility was saved from the $60 million in 2019 Calgary budget cuts.
Community members are concerned, however, that in the flux of figuring out the pool’s future, their recreation needs will be forgotten altogether.
In last November’s budget adjustments, more than 20 per cent of the public submissions were in favour of finding a way to keep both the Inglewood and Beltline pools open, while long term solutions were sought.
Ultimately, the city agreed to a two-year reprieve for the pools while they sought out answers. It didn’t make sense to shut them and still pay to secure the buildings while they deteriorated and long-term plans took hold, said Mayor Naheed Nenshi.
“For a small additional cost, instead of having security guards roam an empty building, you can have kids swimming in the empty building, while you actually come up with a plan. Why would we not do that,” Nenshi said at the time.
City administration will come back this year with a report on further options and potential business cases for the pools.
How Calgary got the Inglewood Aquatic Centre
A.E. Cross, one of Calgary’s first industrialists, launched the Calgary Brewing & Malting Company back in 1893. Over the years, Cross added amenities to the Inglewood area, including a large garden area that over time added different plant species and a fish hatchery.
Along with that, a section of the lot was donated to the City of Calgary.
In 1963, it became the Inglewood community swimming pool.
“That granting of that to the citizens of Calgary was based on the idea that when it stopped being a pool, it would revert back to the Cross family or whoever owned the land in the future,” said Gian-Carlo Carra, the area’s city councillor.
The Matco Group of Companies now owns the site.
Carra said there is a vision for that area, that encompasses the former brewery lands and the storage areas – also including the site of the Inglewood Aquatic Centre. It includes a wide range of mixed-use development.
When asked if that building stood in the way of future development in the area, Carra turned the question back: “Does the pool have a future as a standalone run-by-the-City-of-Calgary recreation offering that makes the most sense.”
“I think the answer is no,” said Carra.
Cost of the Inglewood pool
In their September 2019 presentation, City of Calgary administration painted a bleak picture of the economic viability of both the Beltline and Inglewood pools. Both were heavily subsidized – though Beltline to a greater extent than Inglewood.
James Mclaughlin, acting director of recreation for the City of Calgary told council that both facilities would also require at least $3 million in capital investment over five years to keep the facilities up to par.
He also pointed out that in the catchment area for these aquatic facilities, there were already two other pools operating – one at Repsol and the other at the Eau Claire YMCA.
“We have quite a number of portals for service,” he said at the Sept. 11, 2019 meeting.
Later, council would hear that these pools required $800,000 in annual tax-supported funding from the city in order to continue operating. It should be noted, however, that they were also told it would cost $400,000 annually to provide security and maintenance on the abandoned buildings.
After some jockeying during budget adjustments in November, both pools got a two-year reprieve with the $800,000 to be funded from corporate savings.
Calgary Recreation would also boost the adult admission rate to $8, up from $6.70.
‘Use it or lose it’
From the community’s perspective, they’ve been given a chance to prove area residents will use the Inglewood pool on a regular basis.
“We called it ‘use it or lose it’ in the last newsletter that the ICA (Inglewood Community Association) published,” said ICA communications director, Naomi Withers.
“We’re trying to get community members out to increase those participation rates at that pool specifically in order to show the City of Calgary that even though Inglewood is small and doesn’t meet the required population to have a larger facility, our residents are active users of the pool and shouldn’t be left out because of the geographic size of our neighbourhood.”
She said they’re working hard with Calgary Recreation to muster up new ways of bringing people to the pool. Recently, they worked with the city to open the pool on Family Day – a day it’s typically closed.
“That saw over 100 bodies in the pool and it was only open for two hours,” Withers said.
They’ve also started an evening combined lane swim and workout class. It’s drawn an additional 10 people, which Withers admits isn’t huge, but it’s only been operating for a month.
Significant turnover is expected in private bookings at the facility this summer. Withers said they expect many of those contracts to be renegotiated and more slots to be opened to the general public.
“That was one of the failures, we think, earlier on in the fight to save the pool is that residents actually had no opportunities to use the pool,” she said.
“It was constantly booked with private groups.”
What’s next for the Inglewood pool and area recreation
Jennifer Symcox, planning and partnerships lead with Calgary Recreation, said the Inglewood pool was included in the 2016 Recreation Facility Development and Enhancement Study.
(We were unable to locate the document online – “That, to my extreme frustration, has yet to see the broad light of day,” said Coun. Carra.)
In it, Symcox said the Inglewood pool was shown to be substandard.
“It’s smaller than our desired direction to serve the needs of Calgarians, and it’s an older facility,” she said.
Their guidelines are for two square feet per person and a catchment area of roughly 75,000 people.
“We’re looking at trying to provide facilities to maximize space utilization, service provision and cost recovery potential,” Symcox said.
There is a long-term need for a recreation facility in the area, Symcox said. But it’s based on the area’s future growth and densification potential.
(In March, there is a public session about the Historic East Calgary Area Redevelopment Plan. Though, interestingly, the May 2018 draft document doesn’t specifically address recreation centre infrastructure.)
With the Green Line’s intended route to cut through the Inglewood and Ramsay area, it’s believed that Transit-Oriented Development will be a catalyst for ongoing growth in the area. There are a couple of other larger-scale projects in the works for Inglewood that will boost densification efforts.
Site of a future recreation centre
Symcox said nailing down a specific site for a future recreation centre is complex. They’re constantly working with different departments as parcels come up and area plans change.
At any time, several locations can pass across their desks as future spots for recreation infrastructure.
“There’s a land circulation process and business units like recreations, parks, are notified of site within specific catchments,” she said.
“As a part of our work, we identify multiple ones and we undertake additional due diligence.”
One of sites identified is the former Lilydale chicken processing plant (2126 Hurst Road SE). While it’s purely speculative at this point, Symcox said, the city has already acquired the property to be used for Green Line construction staging.
Coun. Carra said what’s frustrated him is they’ve spent four years trying to solidify the vision for the Inglewood Ramsay area and then he heard the Inglewood pool was on the chopping block. He went to the folks in city recreation.
“I said, ‘so where is the next generation inner-city recreation facility going to go?” Carra said.
“And they said, ‘oh we’re thinking of Lilydale.’ I was like, ‘well, don’t you think that’s a ‘f—king’ conversation we should have been having with everybody?”
Whether it’s the Lilydale site or “doubling down” on the Repsol Centre, Carra said these conversations need to be had in public.
Withers said they’ve been told the two sites being considered for future recreation are the Lilydale site and a site somewhere in the West Village (across the downtown).
“They said the decision on where to put their money would only be in one of those two sites, and it’s dependent on the population growth in each of those areas in which area grows faster,” Withers said.
The problem is, timelines don’t match up well for the Lilydale site.
If 2022 is the end for the Inglewood pool and the Green Line won’t be fully finished until 2026 – tack on three or four years for planning, development, public engagement and then a couple years for construction of a new recreation centre – they’re looking at a minimum of 10 years without a reasonable recreation opportunity, Withers said.
Patrons could go to the Repsol Centre or the Eau Claire YMCA, but it’s not accessible for many and twice the cost for adult admission.
“We feel like we need a walkable or an easily accessible by transit option. That’s affordable,” said Withers.
“If it existed in the downtown area, that’s fine for residents, but it needs to be affordable and the two semi-private options are not affordable.”
‘The best possible future’
Carra, himself a former president of the Inglewood Community Association, said there’s a real attachment to the Inglewood pool among area residents.
That was evident with the steady stream of users making their case for the pool’s survival during September’s committee meeting and November’s budget adjustments.
There’s historical significance for residents – a nostalgia of sorts for many of the senior users.
Carra said its quaintness and size make it an ideal location.
“It doesn’t come with a bunch of whistle and bells and a weight room with macho douches flexing in the mirror. They can do their aqua-size and stuff like that there,” he said.
“It’s a part of their sense of self and their neighbourhood life and it’s wonderful.”
Withers said they’re a patient bunch and they’re doing their best to rally support for the facility they have, in the time that they have it.
They just don’t want to be forgotten.
The community has come to terms with the fact that the actual building likely won’t be around in 15 years, but they need options in the interim while the city considers what to do next.
“What we’d like is to be given a recreation option until such time that a replacement preferably exists, but at least has shovels in the ground,” she said.
“Because we feel like if our pool was to close and the city and people forget about the fact that we had a pool, then Inglewood might not be, or Ramsey might not be, considered for the next recreation site.”