Readying for the Plunge

Will they take the plunge?

That is the question that faces a city hall committee this week as it prepares to enter the final stage of a nearly three-year debate about whether to build a new aquatic centre in Kingston.

Councillors have gone back and forth on the proposed project, at one point asking for numbers about a 25-metre pool, then a 50-metre, then a 25-metre that could be expanded to a 50-metre and finally deciding on a 25-metre pool.

So far, the price tag has made the elected officials of this city hold off on diving into this project. The latest figures don’t seem to have changed much since the first estimate two years ago.

Invista Centre Aquatic plansThe latest figure for a 25-metre, 10-lane pool with bulkheads, along with a leisure pool and associated amenities, including an expanded athletics centre, is $35.9 million, according to a city hall report released early Saturday morning.

The centre will not pay for itself. The draft operational budget predicts deficits in every year of operations, with revenues covering 70 per cent of operating costs and the taxpayer covering the remaining 30 per cent. This is nothing new for a recreational facility in Kingston: taxpayers annually subsidize the operational budget shortfalls at local hockey arenas, Artillery Park and the Leo Lafleur Memorial pool. (Actually, the subsidies at local hockey arenas are nearly $2 million annually. The report notes that even with the new pool, the annual pools subsidy would be $1.2 million, still below the subsidy for hockey arenas.)

We already know where this proposed aquatic centre is going to go — on the site of the Invista Centre — but what we now need to find out is how much of it could possibly be built.

To save a little money, the recommendation today is to build the 25-metre pool (cost = $23 million), leisure pool and associated amenities ($8.9 million) for a total of about $32 million. City councillors have heard that number before, so they should not be surprised at the latest cost estimate.

Nor should they be surprised at the financing options. They set the financing parameters in June, specifically a maximum possible tax increase of 1.5 per cent — one per cent to pay for the construction of the building, 0.5 per cent for increased operating costs. That tax increase amounts to about $40 a year for the average tax bill of $2,704 and would be phased in over a few years, kind of like the increases needed to pay for the new police headquarters or the $15 million hospital foundation donation.

Invista Centre Aquatic plansTaxes will cover $27 million of the debt. Development charges will cover another $3 million and surcharges on user fees will cover $2 million with the debt and associated interest paid off over a 30-year period.

Despite the talk about adding services and recreational opportunities for Kingstonians, when it comes right down to it, city councillors are going to have to decide whether to spend the money.

If council votes to proceed with the project, they will have to convince the public that it will be worth the increase in taxes and user fees. That’s not an easy task with the complication of a municipal election near the end of the year. Many may be willing to fight an election over the issue, worried that the wrong vote now on the project could end their political careers. (Consider what the construction of the downtown arena did to the re-election aspirations of several previous council members.)

If the city decides to go ahead with the project, design would start in 2011 and the official opening would be in 2014, just in time for another municipal election.

So, the question remains: Will they take the plunge?

8 thoughts on “Readying for the Plunge

  • It's called a recreational infrastructure deficit and, sooner or later, you have to pay for that if you want to live in a liveable city.

    Here I see two separate pools, in two separate rooms, with two separate life-guard offices. Dumb design?

    What's the natural light story here? That's certainly not evident in the drawings. The world's best pools are bathed in natural light during daytime.

    At least this project has its burden disclosed up-front, and is not shrouded in deceit like the LVEC continues to be.

  • I'm still convinced that government of any level HAS to provide facilities like this. Just like the LVEC: if there's such a crying need for it, where are the commercial proposals?

    Sure, it would be nice to be able to provide everything for everyone, but we can't afford the fix the streets. How can we possibly afford this?

    • Here here. Despite the fact that I don't do a lot of driving, I would rather have roads, smoother than a babies bottom, than a pool that I will never use. And again, wouldn't it be cheaper to reno Artillery Park rather than build Aquaman's HQ out by the Invsta Centre?

  • As much as I whole-heartedly agree that facilities such as this are necessary – and of course one should never truly expect that all such services and facilities are going to pay for themselves – I'm not sure why a city perched on some of the most beautiful shores of the most beautiful lake in the world needs to have artificial swimming areas? Okay, it would be nice to have them, yes. But do we need them? Not really.

    Of course, this outs me as a lake swimmer, which I am. I did my growing up on Amherst Island, on its south-west shore to be exact. There is a gorgeous public, sand beach there which is clean and beautiful and, in my own opinion, 10-fold better than swimming in chlorinated, other-people-juice soup. Yeah, the lake's got stuff in it, too, but it's much less icky to my thinking.

    But I digress.

    I can't say it any better than Harvey in saying that, yes, I would rather see car driving on roads that are smoother than a baby's bottom than I would see another gigantic monolithic structure built to the tune of some bazillions of dollars. There are much better way to spend our bazillions. I am a walker (and a busser, but we're concentrating on the other here) and this city needs more sidewalks, too. It's quite annoying – especially considering the time of year which is approaching – to have to tramp through the mud in order to reach one's destination.

    I mean, your tax dollars are worth spending to save my precious shoes. ;)

  • Kingston swim teams can't even book time for practice right now – that's how badly we need another pool. And why not use the lake? Because we live in Canada. I've swum in the lake many times and it's great but only for a very small pocket of time. I tried it in July and it was absolutely freezing. Then I did the tri in August and it was better, but still pretty cold. I'm not sure I agree with the current design but I'm not a designer. I just think the new pools are essential and as a lane swimmer, I love the idea of two separate pools. Artillery Park is so busy during the lane swims and half of the pool is used for recreational swimming it would be much better if this could be done separately so those who want to swim lengths can do so without bumping into others. I like smooth roads too but exercise is also an important part of a healthy community.

  • If you want people to go out and exercise, build sidewalks on every main road and bike lanes/paths (e.g. on the side of Bath Road and Front Road). This is much cheaper than building a pool and has the added benefit of getting people out of their cars.

    • Agreed, I would rather see more sidewalks and bike lanes than a pool at the Invista Centre. Regardless, looks as though council voted in favour of it…but are going to 'let' the new council figure out how to make it happen in terms of funding etc… Ridiculous.

    • Totally agree on the part of Bath Road. I was cycling on Bath Road heading downtown last summer, and going a a pretty high speed. Around where the penitentiary is, I had to leave the road, or have a car very likely bump into me. I am not sure what would have been safer – I chose to leave the road, taking a 6" drop from road surface into heavy rocks with deep ruts. I very nearly lost control and at the speed I was going at I would have probably broke a few bones, cut the hell outta of myself, and maybe even wound on rolling onto the road again and into traffic. As it is, I got a puncture and had to walk 3km to Canadian Tire…

      Is it too much to expect a city the size of Kingston to at least have some bicycle lanes? I am only aware of any being on Union…

      Putting toys and luxuries over basic infrastructure, whenever possible, is seemingly the primary goal of the people running Kingston.

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