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Eau Claire YMCA to close permanently; Beltline pool reopening unlikely says councillor

The permanent closure of one inner-city recreation centre and the potential permanent closure of another is “outrageous” and leaves a massive hole in area services, said Beltline Neighbourhoods Association president, Peter Oliver.

On Thursday afternoon, the YMCA announced that the Gray Family Eau Claire YMCA downtown facility won’t reopen when their other facilities open.

The YMCA said in a media release Thursday afternoon that financial pressures, economic conditions and limited opportunities the facility has in its current form led to the decision.

“We take great pride in the high-quality programs and memorable experiences that have been offered through the facility,” said Patricia White, Chair, YMCA Calgary Board of Directors.

“In honour of the positive impact it has had on so many lives, we will make every possible effort to minimize the effects of this process on our staff and the communities who enjoy the facility.”    

The release goes on to say that rising costs, reduced membership base and capital upgrade costs to the facility contributed. COVID-19 heightened these impacts, but they were there prior to the pandemic.

The YMCA operates six facilities: Rocky Ridge, Seton, Shawnessy, Saddletowne, Quarry Park and the Crowfoot location.

Beltline pool permanent closure?

LiveWire Calgary also learned that it was unlikely the Beltline Aquatic and Fitness Centre would reopen in its current form.

The aging Beltline and Inglewood pools were initially going to be closed back in 2019. At that time, they got a two-year reprieve while the city sought ways to boost programming and usage.

On Thursday, Ward 8 councillor Evan Woolley said it’s unlikely the pool will reopen unless the next city council decides to find the money to do it.

“I wouldn’t say it’s permanently closed, but I would go on the record to say, I would be very surprised if Beltline pool in its current context, opens as it does,” he told LiveWire Calgary.

Coun. Woolley said at some point there needs to be some accountability at the City of Calgary for the degradation of recreation in the inner city.

“I think there’s been a massive failure of leadership at the City of Calgary in regard to that question,” he said.

“The fact is that the recreation department at the City of Calgary makes almost zero programming and operating investments in the downtown today.”

He said the failure of the City’s recreation department to prepare in advance for this, at a time when they the city is encouraging densification in established areas is unacceptable.

“It’s not like these facilities became outdated the day we closed them,” Woolley said.

“We’ve known for years about this. We’ve known for years as we’re making hundreds of millions of dollars of investments in our far-flung suburbs, in brand new facilities for the people in those neighbourhoods, when the goose that lays the golden egg, which is the center city, the recreation department has allowed these facilities to crumble in front of their eyes.”

City continuing work on future pool use

In memo to members of council from James McLaughlin, acting director Calgary Recreation, he said the YMCA closure would be considered in the context of current work they’re doing.  

The city is working on a pool study to identify gaps and overlaps in aquatic coverage. That’s expected complete later this year. A feasibility study is also underway on a Repsol Centre expansion project, it read. 

They’re also working on the Beltline and Inglewood pools program. 

LiveWire Calgary received a statement after asking about the potential permanent closure of the Beltline aquatic facility.

The city said the Beltline and Inglewood pools remain temporarily closed at this time due to COVID-19.

“The City of Calgary continues to work through a wide-ranging, consultative process to understand the social and recreational needs of the Beltline and Inglewood communities,” the statement read.

“Recommendations on how to meet those needs as well as recommendations on the future use of the Beltline and Inglewood facilities will be presented to Council on May 31, 2021.

‘The city is turning its back on existing neighbourhoods’

Peter Oliver, president of the Beltline Neighbourhoods Association, said these decisions make no sense when compared to city goals of revitalizing established neighbourhoods.

“I think it’s outrageous that recreation would be proposing this. It’s completely counter to the city’s objectives of absorbing new residential growth in existing neighborhoods,” he said.

“It appears more like one arm of the city doesn’t know what the other arm of the city is doing or the coordination between a city goals and objectives and long-term strategy aren’t being followed through with the day-to-day decisions of how the city is run.”

Oliver said it’s going to leave a big gap in available recreation in the area. He’s worried a lack of recreation in the area will act as a disincentive to newcomers looking to live inner city.

This comes at a time when the city is having a conversation about retaining young people in Calgary.  Oliver said it could affect decisions people make to either move here – or leave.

The Repsol Centre is a regional facility, but it isn’t easily accessible from the community Oliver said. He said it’s built for car-centric access. Many residents in the area don’t own a car, he said.

“It’s used as a regional training pool and public access is limited,” he said.

According to the city memo, they’re not currently considering a takeover of the YMCA facility.