More than 100 people were in attendance for a relatively tame first public meeting about a proposed $12 million pool in Vanderhoof.
The information session was held by the Vanderhoof Pool Committee at the Friendship Centre last Tuesday evening.
Those in attendance had the opportunity for comment and questions.
Vanderhoof mayor Gerry Thiessen opened the meeting before a slideshow presentation about the proposed aquatic centre by Ashley Kuznak, the recreation coordinator for the district.
The presentation highlighted the main advantages of having an aquatic centre in Vanderhoof, in particular for promoting a healthy lifestyle for families and seniors, as well as for promoting water safety. The financial benefits were also highlighted, and it was suggested that building a pool would be a key way to attract and retain professionals to the town and surrounding areas, as well as creating a number of jobs such as swimming instructor and life guard positions.
A graphic showing the proposed pool was shown during the presentation and included a multi-purpose room, a lobby and viewing area, changing rooms, a lap pool, a wading pool, a lazy river, an exercise lane and an exercise area.
The public was also told about the financial break down and costs of the building and maintenance of the pool.
The committee has estimated that it will cost around $480,000 a year to operate the pool. They are requesting that the communities of Fraser Lake, Fort St. James and Regional Districts C and D each take on $25,000 a year and that Regional District F take on $100,000 a year. The remaining $280,000 would be covered by Vanderhoof.
The cost to build the pool is currently estimated at $12 million, $8 million of which the committee hopes can be funded by various grants. The remaining $4 million would be spread over a number of years and would be the responsibility of Vanderhoof and Regional District F.
An average household in Vanderhoof would be looking at a tax increase of $130 per year.
Before the meeting was opened up for public comment, RCMP Staff Sergeant David Beach, real estate agent Tom Bulmer and businessman and ex-council member Brian Frenkel, all spoke on the benefits of having a pool in town.
Sgt. Beach described the Vanderhoof RCMP detachment as a training detachment, stating than on average an RCMP member would only stay in the community for about three years.
“When I get a phone call from RCMP officers who have experience – they have families and they ask me what Vanderhoof’s like.
“I tell them all the great things about Vanderhoof – but they ask me if we have an aquatic centre or a recreation centre…I say no and that pretty well ends the conversation and I never hear from them again,” said Sgt. Beach.
He added that the situation is the same with new recruits from Regina who have families…”After we finish training them, if they have a family, they move on.
“Anybody who has mobility within their profession, they go to places that have recreation facilities and other amenities.
“If we had an aquatic centre we could attract police officers with experience and people would stay here…you would get to know your policemen,” he said.
He also mentioned the effect a pool might have on the petty crime rate.
“It would give the youths something to do and would reduce property crimes and other crimes that are associated with idol hands,” he said.
Bulmer also emphasized that a pool would attract people to the area and benefit property owners in town.
“We would attract a lot more people to our town and manage to keep them here and that will help you as landowners because your real estate will go up.
“I’m 100 per cent behind this,” he said.
Frenkel spoke about Vanderhoof as losing out in competition against many other small communities who have more to offer.
“We have to look at what’s best for our community down the road…we’ve had this process with the arena and it’s the same thing – large operating costs, no revenue – none of these things are going to make money folks, but we need them to attract people to our community,” he said.
A number of interesting questions were thrown at the pool committee by the public during the second half of the meeting.
One asked why two previous attempts to build a pool in Vanderhoof had failed at referendum and what is being done to make this attempt more successful?
Steve Little, chair of the committee, said previous proposals had failed due to a lack of public information about the pool and also due to the structure on how people would be taxed.
“We’ve restructured it completely,” said Little.
“If I remember correctly, last time, the regional residents were asked to pay tax on all their lands…but now it’s a residential tax rather than a parcel tax,” he said.
Overall, there were more gusto statements from the public in favor of the pool, than against it, although not all comment was positive.
One resident in attendance, Justus Benckhuysen, said although he has nothing against a pool, he doesn’t think it is the answer to all the towns’ problems.
“We can’t afford a skateboard park and that’s only $200,000 to build with no operation costs.
“The pool is being marketed as the silver bullet that will fix all of our ills – we need to look at all the little things that we can’t afford like a community arts building…we need to recognize that no one thing is going to solve all our problems,” he said.
Little responded by saying that the multipurpose rooms in the proposed pool designs could be used by many other community groups in town that are in need of space.
Another resident stood up and made his argument in favor of building a pool.
“We are one of the younger families here and we’ve been here about five years…but we’re just about ready to move out of town because there’s no aquatic centre.” he said.
He added that he and his wife spend a lot of money taking their three-year-old son to the pool in Prince George, and that the proposed pool would be worth the tax increase.
“We do have a good economy right now but there’s really not much for our families to do here.
“It’s a little bit of money for what we’re going to end up getting and it’s going to keep families like us here…I don’t know if I can raise my son here…I don’t want him down at 7-Eleven at 12 at night,” he said.
Another parent said she spends $500 a month taking her 15-year-old son with severe special needs swimming in Prince George once a week.
An elementary teacher also put her hand up to offer input.
“I wasn’t planning to speak…but eight years ago, one June, I said goodbye to my class on a Friday afternoon and on a Saturday afternoon one of my students drowned,” she said.
“We’re surrounded by rivers and lakes here and a pool is essential for safety.”
Vanderhoof physiotherapist Richard Van Erp said a pool in town would offer huge benefits to many of his patients.
“From a professional perspective I can tell you that I deal with people on a daily basis who would greatly benefit from moving and exercise in water…I have to send a lot of people to Prince George to exercise because we don’t have anything here,” he said.
Another resident asked if the current pool design could be “shaved down” and made more affordable. He also suggested the committee look at building the pool at the west end of town by L&M lumber.
“L&M can heat the pool – they have a lot of heat going into the sky there,” he said.
Little said the suggestion would be taken into consideration and that the proposed pool design was not set in stone.
Further public meetings in Vanderhoof and the surrounding area will be held throughout the summer.
A referendum for the proposed pool will be held this November in conjunction with the next civic election, in order to save on costs.
“The question will be asked to everyone – do you support building a pool in Vanderhoof?” said Little.
If successful, the referendum would have a shelf life of five years.