At its meeting on Tuesday, Sep. 5, 2023, Kingston City Council voted to spend $6.5 million to help build a new pool in Amherstview, as part of a partnership with Loyalist Township. In a report published in advance of Tuesday’s meeting, City staff recommended Council contribute “up to” $6.5 million to support a new aquatic facility to be built at the W.J. Henderson Recreation Centre on Amherst Drive in Amherstview.
According to the report, City of Kingston residents will have “equal access to recreation programming at the expanded facility for a period of up to 20 years,” which includes being able to register for lessons and other programs at the same time as residents from Loyalist Township. The City of Kingston’s contribution to the project will be drawn from the Municipal Council Reserve in 2024, 2025, and 2026. The new pool will fill a major gap in aquatic programming throughout the region, since the previous pool servicing the W.J. Henderson Recreation Centre shut down in 2022 due to “significant infrastructure concerns.”
Since last year, staff with Loyalist Township have been working to identify regional partners in order to offer expanded aquatic programming for residents. Last December, the Township received a $16.5 million grant from from the federal government’s Green and Inclusive Community Building Program, to support improvements to “safety, accessibility, and environmental performance” at the facility.
The municipal portion of the pool renovations and upgrades is expected to total $26.2 million, with the City of Kingston’s $6.5 million contribution coming in at 25 per cent of the costs. The staff report notes that in 2019, City of Kingston residents accounted for 18.5 per cent of all visits to the previous pool.
When the staff report was presented to Kingston City Council during Tuesday night’s meeting, members spoke in favour of the need to support the neighbouring municipality while providing more aquatic options for Kingston residents to enjoy.
“Not only do we need one aquatic facility, but there’s a need for two different locations… So this is something we do need to move forward with. If we are going to be moving forward with this, one of the biggest stumbling blocks is going to be financial,” said Loyalist-Cataraqui Councillor Paul Chaves, who urged the federal government to provide additional funding for a second facility in the future.
While a significant number of Kingston residents are expected to use the new pool, Portsmouth Councillor Don Amos inquired about the accessibility of the venue for residents relying on Kingston Transit to get to the W.J. Henderson Recreation Centre.
“Right now we have a number of residents that probably cannot afford to drive out to [Amherstview], and [for] a number of residents that would take our transit system, the existing transit route to the Amherstview facility is not strong,” he remarked.
Currently, the facility is served by a single Kingston Transit route, the Number 10 bus. It connects the W.J. Henderson Recreation Centre with the Cataraqui Centre in Kingston, with buses departing once an hour. Amos asked staff whether there are any plans to expand transit options once the new facility opens its doors.
Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Lanie Hurdle replied, “There are conversations that have started and will continue to happen in terms of potential improvements to that route, or other potential routes.” She added that further information will be made available through the Rural Transit Study, which is set to be presented to Council in early 2024.
In response to a question from Councillor Wendy Stephen of Lakeside, Hurdle noted that a pool in Loyalist Township would help alleviate demand at other aquatic facilities in Kingston, including Artillery Park.
“We know that people who reside in the west end of Kingston are going to be travelling… more to the pool in Amherstview than they would [to] Artillery Park. That is going to bring more capacity at the Artillery Park location,” she said.
In terms of what the new pool in Amherstview will look like, the staff report noted the new facility will include “a fully accessible 25-metre pool with eight lanes as well as an accessible leisure pool,” which will “substantially increase swimming capacity” from the existing six-lane pool.
The staff report ultimately passed by a vote of 12-0. With the City of Kingston’s funding for the project now guaranteed, construction on the facility is set to get underway this fall and will take approximately 2.5 years to complete.
City to enter into memorandum of understanding with the YMCA of Eastern Ontario
While financial support for the Loyalist Township pool was seen by many as the report’s “big ticket item,” staff also gave councillors additional information on pool service levels throughout the Kingston region. According to staff, the City will need to add one additional pool by 2031 in order to meet expected demand. The report recommended that staff continue to work with the YMCA of Eastern Ontario to enter into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to advance work related to replacing the existing YMCA facility on Wright Crescent in Kingston.
“The MOU will provide partners with some guidelines and parameters to advance discussions,” the report noted. In addition to replacing the current YMCA facility, the MOU will also include discussions related to the development of a new pool at the INVISTA Centre property.
As the report noted, the existing relationship between the City and the YMCA is governed by a “YMCA First” approach, which prioritizes the needs of YMCA members. “Aquatics offer an integral part of the broader and more financially sustainable operations of the YMCA buildings as multi-use community recreation centres,” the report added.
As the City moves into an MOU with the YMCA, Hurdle confirmed staff will continue to identify solutions that “serve the community. ” She explained, “The conversations with the YMCA so far have been at a fairly high level… The intent of putting together this MOU is to be able to start exploring, in more detail, what this partnership… could look like… We have been clear to the YMCA that we want this asset to serve the community — so what that looks like, I’m not exactly sure [yet].”
Discussions with the YMCA will also be tied to the City’s commitment to explore “sports tourism” opportunities as part of a new aquatic centre. “We have pressures for sports tourism as well,” Hurdle went on. “So there’s a community need, but there’s also a sports tourism need. Those are all conversations we’ve started to have at a high level with the YMCA.”
Members of the public can view the full agenda from the September 5, 2023 council meeting on the City of Kingston’s City Council meetings webpage, and the meeting can be viewed in full on the Kingston City Council YouTube channel.