The City of Victoria will lose $6 million in federal-provincial funding for the new Crystal Pool and Wellness Centre.
In a report put forward by Thomas Soullierre, director of parks, recreation and facilities, council was told the $6 million in gas tax grants presented by the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) will not be subject to an extension, and that other projects must be considered for the funding.
The grant was originally awarded to the City in February 2018 under the condition that all other funding for the $69.4 million project be acquired by March 31, 2019.
In November 2018 council approved a substantial change to the project by directing staff to consider an entirely different site for the pool, following pressure from the North Park Neighborhood Association and the Victoria Downtown Resident’s Association. Both associations felt there had not been enough public consultation on the pool, and feared for the loss of greenspace by using most of Central Park. Instead, the groups advocated for the use of the parking lot behind the Save-On-Foods Memorial Arena.
In a November interview with Black Press, Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps explained why council agreed with the neighbourhood associations at the time.
“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.”
Helps acknowledged that pushing the project would escalate the price above the original budget, while Soulliere pointed out that due to a competitive construction market, costs could escalate as much as $500,000 per month after February 2019.
In November, city staff were instructed to write to both the UBCM, as well as the Canadian Tire Jump Start Program, which granted the City $1 million, to ask for an extension. So far, the UBCM wrote back to deny the extension.
“Staff have met with representatives of UBCM recently and understand that the funding program received hundreds of applications from jurisdictions across B.C. for support well-beyond the available funds,” the report reads. “Staff recommend communicating in writing to UBCM, to acknowledge this situation in advance of the March 31 deadline, and allow UBCM to consider awarding this funding to other deserving projects in the province.”
The gas tax grant is a 10-year plan, and the City can reapply for partial funding later on.
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