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Degraded Vancouver Aquatic Centre unsafe for swimmer: Swim coach

‘If we lose a pool from the system, where will kids go to learn to swim?’ Phil Skinder asks

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When a chunk of the ceiling fell at the Vancouver Aquatic Centre Feb. 16, it was a reminder of how old most of the city’s indoor pools are.

No one was injured, but portions of the complex were cordoned off while repairs were made and this weekend’s Island and Coastal winter divisionals swim meet was in jeopardy of being cancelled.

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It shines a light on whether Vancouver has enough indoor pools for the number of swimmers out there.

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“Absolutely not,” said Jeannie Lo, president of Swim B.C. as well as the Canadian Dolphins Swim Club, which hosts the divisionals in its home pool. “And many facilities are aging, a lot of them are just old and are due for replacement.”

It’s a sentiment shared by many.

“There are a couple of issues here,” said Phil Skinder, president and founder of the Pacific Swim Academy. “No. 1, we are undersupplied on the pool side. Furthermore, the pools that we have are old.”

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Vancouver Aquatic Centre (VAC) after two large sections inside the building are closed to patrons and swimmers after a piece of concrete fell from the ceiling, and a number of acoustic panels were found to be loose. in Vancouver, B.C., on February 17, 2024. Photo by NICK PROCAYLO /10103878A

Vancouver has nine indoor public pools, that’s roughly one for every 80,000 city residents. For comparison’s sake, according to their websites, the City of Calgary has 13 indoor pools, one for every 100,000 residents; and the City of Toronto has 56 indoor pools, one for every 55,000 of its citizens.

The City of Vancouver is responsible for the capital costs of building, maintaining and repairing the city’s pools, while the park board manages them.

Work being done on the exterior of the 50-year-old Aquatic Centre caused a 10-centimetre piece of concrete to fall, and Styrofoam acoustic panels to come loose, forcing the temporary closure of the east deck and the tot pool, the city said in an emailed statement.

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The city has allocated $140 million in its current three-year capital plan to begin work toward a “renewed” Aquatic Centre in 2026, after consultations with West Enders and First Nations.

The city didn’t make anyone available for comment and didn’t answer whether Vancouver has enough pools or how many are nearing the ends of their projected lives, but Brennan Bastyovanszky, commissioner of the park board, was as blunt as Lo when asked if the city has enough pools.

“No,” he said.

The park board for ages has come up with strategies to accommodate a growing population after community consultations, he said, and forwards those proposals to city council, going back at least 15 years.

“And councils have continuously voted them down,” Bastyovanszky said. “They deprioritize parks and recreation because they’re dealing with things like housing and homelessness, opioid crisis, policing, roads, garbage collection. The capital money that should be going to parks just hasn’t gotten the attention.”

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Vancouver Aquatic Centre (VAC) after two large sections inside the building are closed to patrons and swimmers after a piece of concrete fell from the ceiling, and a number of acoustic panels were found to be loose. in Vancouver, B.C., on February 17, 2024. Photo by NICK PROCAYLO /10103878A

It’s not like falling concrete should come as a surprise to anyone at city hall.

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Part of the Aquatic Centre’s exterior wall above the entrance crumbled to the ground a couple of years ago. The section, three-metres-by-10-metres, fell at night and no one was hurt.

Nine years ago a flood wiped out the building’s electrical system, while a park board report 13 years ago warned that the pool could be unsafe by 2021.

In 2019 the park board issued another report, VanSplash, that made it clear that five indoor pools — the Aquatic Centre, Kerrisdale, Britannia, Lord Byng and Templeton — are at the end of their functional lifespans, while the three newest pools — Hillcrest, Renfrew and Killarney — host almost two-thirds of Vancouver’s 2.165 million annual swim visits.

Should the Vancouver Aquatic Centre face permanent closure for safety, the Pacific Swim Academy and the 70-year-old Dolphins’ club would wind up homeless because there isn’t other swim space available.

As for the proposed $140-million Aquatic Centre “renewal,” Lo isn’t holding her breath, given the way public works often wind up overbudget.

“Whatever we intend to replace it with, by the time 2026 rolls around there’s inflation,” she said. “I personally am not confident that we’re going to be able to build what we said we’re going to.”

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