Summerland council decided Monday it is time for residents to weigh in if they want to borrow up to $50 million to build a new pool.
The Summerland Aquatic & Fitness Centre was brought back before council to decide whether or not to delay the referendum until after the results of the Green and Inclusive Buildings grant is awarded.
The aging aquatic centre has been a continued topic of discussion within council chambers as it approaches the end of its usable lifespan.
A public engagement process conducted in late 2021 revealed strong public support for constructing a brand new centre, rather than investing in upgrading the existing one.
Council received the latest cost estimate in December 2022, indicating approximately $49 million would be required to replace the aquatic centre. In contrast, the previous year's estimate was around $38 million, encompassing either rebuilding at the current location on Kelly Avenue or relocating to Jubilee Road. Eventually, the decision was made to move to Jubilee Road.
The notable increase in cost since November 2021 can be attributed to several factors, including escalating price of supplies, overall increases in building costs, and expenses related to concrete formwork. The estimated construction costs have risen by approximately 28 per cent.
Councillors had a spirited debate over how much should be presented on the ballot for the referendum vote, given concerns about the cost to local taxpayers.
Mayor Doug Holmes proposed putting forward the referendum question with a cost of $43 million, taking into account a possible infrastructure grant from the province.
“It would bring the annual property or personal tax down below $500 a year. And either way, it'd be easier to address that funding gap if we're faced with it,” he said.
But other councillors disagreed, noting having to go back to voters for more money would be taxing if help doesn’t arrive.
“Maybe people can stomach under $500. Maybe the guy on Lighthouse Landing can, but the single mom trying to raise children maybe can't,” said Coun. Marty Van Alphen.
“If we don't go to the referendum asking for a realistic amount and if we ask too low then I feel like we'll end up having to wait longer for more possible grant money and then the costs will end up coming up in the long run of the pool,” Coun. Erin Trainer added.
Council unanimously decided to move forward with the referendum, assuming that local taxpayers will bear the full cost. If grants are rewarded later, the financial burden on local taxpayers will be lessened.
District CAO Graham Statt said confirmed with council that there will be a big focus not only in terms of the new facility but the real challenges with the existing facility.
“I think staff have done a good job of keeping up appearances there, it is in desperate need of major repairs that are extremely expensive. And, in reality, we’re probably going to have to look at decommissioning that facility in the future if it’s kept,” said Statt, adding there are many challenges with the building, including termite infestations and rotting pipes.
“So, we really have to make sure the public understands not only the choice for a new facility but also the consequences of making a decision against that facility – which are real expenses in the near term or possibly decommissioning in the future.”
District staff will now prepare the referendum question for council’s final approval.
"It's not a council decision. It's our community, and our community needs to ask itself: What does it value? Do we value recreation in our community? Do we want to invest in it? What do we want it to look like in five years and 10 years and 15 years?” Coun. Trainer said.
“It’'s so frustrating not knowing about this grant. But if we wait to hear about the grant, then we're just prolonging the cost and it's going to keep going up. That's why I think the fall is just a good time to do it.”