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Victoria council pauses Crystal Pool project to consider new site

Council is leaning towards moving the facility to the Save-On-Foods Memorial Arena parking lot
The City of Victoria will forgo its first opportunity at federal-provincial funding in favour of further consultation for moving the new Crystal Pool and Wellness Centre. (Nicole Crescenzi/News Staff)

The City of Victoria will forgo its first opportunity for federal-provincial funding for the new Crystal Pool and Wellness Centre in favour of further consideration of an alternative site.

Nearly 80 per cent – and $2 million worth– of planning has been finished for the new facility at the south-west corner of Central Park, across from its current location. Council has labeled this spot as “Project A.”

However, feedback from the North Park Neighbourhood Association (NPNA) and the Victoria Downtown Resident’s Association (VDRA) argued for an alternative site at the parking lot behind the Save-On-Foods Memorial Arena after citing a lack of public consultation, and a potential loss of greenspace. This site option has been titled “Project B.”

READ MORE: Victoria Curling Club, arena parking lot considered for new Crystal Pool location

READ MORE: Victoria Curling Club wants to be part of new Crystal Pool Facility after lease renewal ends

While the City owns the arena property, it is operated by RG Properties in a long-term lease until 2042.

However, in a discussion with RG properties owner Graham Lee, Helps said the option was open.

“He was very interested in exploring the project. There are a lot of synergies between an arena and swimming pool, and there’s potential to save a lot of energy in sharing the heating and cooling systems,” said Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, adding that his only caveat in their preliminary discussion is that he doesn’t want to lose any net parking.

“He’s got a contract to lease it out for parking … if there’s no net loss, and mutual benefits, we’re not breaking the contract, we’re enhancing it,” Helps said.

In a committee of the whole meeting on Thursday, Helps put forward a motion to pause the current project, and assess the pros and cons of considering the Project B site.

The pros would mean a possible partnership with RG Properties, as well as backing from local residents.

“What tipped the balance for me is even if we get some federal and some provincial funding, we’d have to hold a referendum and we could have the North Park Residents forming the ‘no’ side,” Helps said. “We all know what it’s like to do a large infrastructural project that the public doesn’t support, like the Johnson Street Bridge, and I don’t want to do that again.”

On the cons side, the site would delay planning enough that the City could not apply for the first of 10 years of federal-provincial funding through the Investing in Canada’s Plan grant. It could also mean the loss of $6 million in gas tax funding and $1 million from the Canadian Tire Jumpstart Foundation.

Additionally, any current quotes for construction costs would jump from inflation. In an interview with Victoria News in July, Thomas Soulliere, city director of parks, recreation and facilities, cited that construction costs could increase as much as $300,000 to $500,000 per month after February 2019.

READ MORE: Delayed grant decisions could send new Crystal Pool costs soaring

“We are no longer looking at a $69.4 million project, but it may be a better project with the community behind it,” Helps said. “We’ll have to re-think the budget, but with a potential partnership and with energy saving there may be new funding available.”

Helps and council voted unanimously to pause Project A and to lean towards Project B.

City staff will now wrap up their Project A plans and re-use as much as possible at the arena site. City staff have also been directed to write to both the $1 million and $6 million funders to see if an extension is possible.

More details will emerge as more formal discussions happen with RG Properties.

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