Challenges surface after pool referendum

The $4-million loan-authorization bylaw approved at the Feb. 16 pool referendum won't be accepted by town council until early next month.

The $4-million loan-authorization bylaw approved at the Feb. 16 pool referendum won’t be accepted by town council until early next month.

The bylaw is valid for five years from the date of being accepted. And since a loan can only be issued to the district in March or September, the delay affords the town a full five years to find the remaining $8-million needed to build a $12-million aquatic facility and effectively extends the amount of time a $4-million loan can be acquired.

“Fiscally, it’s the best way to do it, to optimize it for the taxpayer,” said Deputy Administrator Tom Clement.

In an open discussion, Councillor Darren Carpenter recommended accepting the bylaw immediately on Monday, Feb. 25, during the first council meeting since the pool referendum, which passed with an overwhelming majority of 78 per cent.

“My theory was to pass the bylaw as quickly as we could and then get to work within our five-year limit,” Carpenter said afterwards.

In the meantime, council is looking at forming a select committee whose mandate will be to find the remaining $8 million for the pool.

The select committee, consisting of councillors, citizens and sitting members of the current pool committee, will be tasked with developing a plan for approaching the province, the federal government, area companies, First Nations and residents of Vanderhoof to gather contributions, donations and fundraising dollars.

According to a Feb. 25 discussion paper prepared by Tom Clement, the pool committee previously proposed raising $1 million from First Nations, $1 million from local businesses, $2 million from area industries and $4 million of government grants.

So far, the provincial government has provided little assurance that funding would be available.

“They have indicated that if any funding did materialize it would be for water and sewer infrastructure. This creates a challenge for council,” Clement wrote.

When and if the $8 million is acquired, the town will postpone the $4-million loan for as long as possible, perhaps even until engineering designs are complete, to avoid paying interest fees of five per cent annually, the equivalent of an additional $4.25 million over 30 years.

“The day we borrow the money is the day we start that portion of the payback,” said Councillor Steve Little, chair of the pool committee.

Even in advance of the referendum, numerous companies in the District of Vanderhoof have expressed support for building a pool, but none have committed to the project financially, said Little, who has set a goal of securing $8 million within two years of when the loan-authorization bylaw is accepted by council.

Other high priorities for council and the select committee are to complete design, engineering and architectural work; initiate a geotechnical survey to scout for prospective locations where a pool can be built; and select a final site.

PERC, the consulting company hired by the town to prepare a $37,000 feasibility study on the construction and operation of an aquatic facility here, said design, engineering and architectural work could cost about $1.2 million, or 10 per cent of the overall costs. (PERC is not currently working for the town, but continues to maintain a business relationship.)

“The catch is that the $1.2 million is required to move forward and the decision to move forward would most likely not be made unless council is one hundred percent sure that full funding is available,” Clement wrote in the discussion paper.

However, because a detailed design is required before the committee can start looking for funds, council will be forced to make some expensive decisions in the months ahead without any guarantee that $8-million will be acquired within the five-year timeframe.

Before any attempt to find funding is made, a detailed design must be completed to provide clarity on costs and what the pool will look like, Clement wrote.

“The ‘horse and pony’ show that will be shown to potential funders needs to be impressive.”

According to the discussion paper, PERC also recommended creating a schematic design, a $120,000 requirement of the overall design. Geotechnical work would cost $30,000.

“Moving forward with a schematic design not only gives council a clear picture as you move forward it is a way to involve the public and continue to add buy-in on this project,” Clement wrote.

No locations for the aquatic facility have been confirmed, but the town is eyeing land adjacent to the Vanderhoof Municipal Arena for several reasons, explained Little.

An aquatic facility located next to the arena would uphold the area’s sports theme and make costs and operations easier to manage by sharing resources like parking.

Also, if a cogeneration system were to be installed, an indoor pool could be heated by capturing the excess energy that’s created to produce ice at the arena, said Little.

“It is extremely important that council have a clear realistic picture of this project. Any conversations or information presented to the public must be consistent and realistic. Creating a false hope of when this project will be completed should be avoided,” Clement concluded.