Crystal Pool set to reopen by end of week

Emergency closure due to faulty electrical panel raises questions

The city is calling it a case of terrible timing. Critics, however, could say it’s more a case of pushing your luck a bit too far.

On Monday morning at 4 a.m., the city parks department discovered a system failure at Crystal Pool and Fitness Centre. The control panel, regulating temperature and ventilation, finally failed after 30 years.

The result? A rainforest-like environment inside, with high humidity coupled with hot spots and cold spots.

It could hardly be called a surprise.

More than two years ago, the city earmarked the Crystal Pool and Fitness Centre for a major overhaul, to the tune of $58 million.

Last July, an assessment report listed the control board among the areas requiring attention. When it broke down yesterday, the city was in the middle of fine-tuning a request for proposals for its replacement.

Instead of shopping around for the best bidder, however, city parks staff had to scramble to find the most readily-available replacement.

To the city’s credit, it secured a new machine from Vancouver by Monday afternoon, at an estimated cost of $20,000. Parks director Kate Friars said she expected the facility could be reopened by the end of this week.

The speedy response curbed any potential damage due to prolonged exposure to moisture.

But the short-term closure still required that all registered recreation classes, set to start mid January, be delayed by one week.

The closure also strengthens criticisms that city staff sat on information the facility for too long.

An electoral slate called Open Victoria, pressured the city to make public a condition assessment of Crystal Pool before the November election. Paul Brown, who was endorsed by the slate as a mayoral candidate, weighed in by email Tuesday.

“I believe the city is having to deal more frequently with such infrastructure failures. This is the result of delaying much needed infrastructure replacement/refurbishment,” Brown wrote.

Kim Fowler, an expert in asset management, frames the challenge for local governments as a choice: to lead or to react.

The former director of sustainability for the city, points out that Victoria is facing an asset-management crisis, as are many municipalities in the country. The difference, she says, is that Victoria’s infrastructure is older than most.

“They do not have an infrastructure/asset management replacement plan to show when and how … those assets will be replaced,” she said.

In the spring, city council plans to decide whether to replace or refurbish Crystal Pool as part of a larger discussion about infrastructure priorities.