City Council makes huge splash with aquatics spending

At their most recent meeting, Kingston City Council discussed a number of aquatic-services-related items, including the incredible demand for swimming lessons that one local parent referred to as being similar to ‘The Hunger Games,’ according to conversation in Council Chambers. Photo by Kevin Paes.

Kingston City Council took a dive into the deep end on Tuesday, Mar. 5, 2024, surfacing with several swimming puns, a $25 million plan for a new pool facility, and decisions made regarding aquatics services.

At this meeting, City Council decided to support building a new aquatic facility at the Invista Centre with a 25-metre, 10-lane pool, and to enclose the Culligan Water Park at the Memorial Centre to make it available year-round. Council posed many questions and City staff answered, chiefly about the type of facilities needed to address the significant lack of enrolment spaces in the municipal swimming lesson program.

These decisions were based on recommendations from City staff’s Report 24-002 ‘Aquatic Facilities Options‘.

In May 2023, Council approved the Strategic Plan for the City of Kingston for 2023-2026. ‘Building an Active and Connected Community’ is a significant theme of the Plan, and the expansion of parks and recreation opportunities and participation was outlined as a goal. Increasing aquatics service access, sports tourism, and wellness programs were identified in the Plan as priorities for achieving that goal.

In September 2023, Council received an aquatic needs assessment and approved a partnership with Loyalist Township to secure access to the upcoming renovation and expansion of W. J. Henderson pool in Amherstview. The study also indicated that, in addition to the partnership and pool access secured with Loyalist Township, there remained a need for an additional pool to support population growth and respond to increased demand for aquatic services. Since then, City staff have investigated different options that would address those needs.

Thus, in this most recent report to Council, staff recommended a few options, with three supporting immediate and long-term needs:

  • Enclosure of Culligan Water Park at the Memorial Centre to provide year-round aquatic services.
  • Construction of a new aquatic and wellness facility at the INVISTA Centre, in partnership with the YMCA.
  • Continue to explore the possibility of constructing a new 25-metre aquatic facility, in partnership with the property owner in the Frontenac Mall’s future redevelopment. This property currently includes a community space and a small pool, which is being leased by the BGC South East (formerly Boys and Girls Club of Kingston & Area). The City has an agreement with the BGC South East to access and run a limited number of programs at the BGC West End Hub pool.

Also on the agenda — and aquatics-related — was a separate report to Council entitled ‘2024 Aquatics Agreement– BGC South East,’ requesting Council’s consent to enter into a service agreement with BCG South East for the duration of 2024. This would be a continuation of an already existing partnership, which sees the City access and run a limited number of community swimming programs at the BGC West End Hub’s existing pool. More on that later.

Hearing from the community

Multiple delegations brought their opinions on the proposed new facilities to Council. 

Rob Adams, Chief Executive Officer of the YMCA of Eastern Ontario, spoke about creating a partnership with the City to operate a new facility if it were to be built. “YMCA of Eastern Ontario will forge meaningful partnerships with organizations who share our vision, values, and desire to build a healthier community for all.” The YMCA and its delivery programs are seen as experts in aquatics, child care, health and wellness, newcomer services, housing, and employment services, Adams shared.

“As a charitable not-for-profit, all of our programs and services are available even for those who can’t afford it,” he said in answer to a question on the price of swimming lessons. “That’s the piece of the YMCA that sets us apart from many, many other providers.”

He highlighted numerous projects already established through partnerships with the City, adding, “So while this is a special idea, it’s not unique. It’s already happening across the country… We are just hoping this complements what we’re already doing.”

The staff report noted that a partnership with the YMCA can only be established for a 25-metre pool. City staff have confirmed that 10 lanes would be adequate for regional and some provincial competitive events. This option would include replacing the existing YMCA facility.

Artist’s rendering of a possible addition to the INVISTA Centre, including a gymnasium and 25-metre pool. Graphics via report to Kingston City Council, ‘Aquatic Facilities Options’.

Megan Knott, Tourism Kingston’s Chief Executive Officer, and Emma Lambert, spokesperson for Tourism Kingston, appeared before Council to discuss options for aquatics in relation to tourism. 

Knott shared that the City is currently missing out on many opportunities, noting Tourism Kingston’s needs-assessment study found that Kingston lacks a competition-ready aquatics facility.

“An additional pool would certainly provide opportunities for hosting events, competitions, and training sessions, and would bring investment to Kingston from a sports tourism perspective,” Lambert stated. She then highlighted several swimming events which could bring hundreds of thousands of dollars in tourism to the city during seasons when sports tourism is generally low.

Further, she said a new facility could “enable the expansion of some underrepresented sports in the Kingston community, whether that’s [synchronized swimming], water polo, triathlon training… which can’t currently take place due to a lack of pool space.”

Andrew Winterborn, President of Kingston Blue Marlins Swim Club, gave an overview of the club. He was followed by Ken Anderson, Executive Director of the organization, who explained the benefits of various sizes of pool facilities as they apply to competitions, recreation, and the needs of the Marlins.

Council discussion

Kingscourt-Rideau District Councillor Brandon Tozzo started by quipping, “It looks like I’ll be making waves first,” to audible groans.

His question was about financing the new facility: “Given current interest rates, we’re looking at quite a lot from the municipality’s perspective. What are the current interest rates that we would have if we started doing all this building? Can we afford this with our current debt levels? And will this impact our credit rating if we do?”

Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Desiree Kennedy answered that staff have done and will continue to do modelling “as we move forward with this project. But we have had four to five years with no debt issuance, so that has bought us some room for us to be able to do this.” She also noted that this is an “appropriate use for debt,” as opposed to using it for asset management.

After more queries on financial implications, Tozzo said, “I think we have to balance two things. One is we have to be fiscally prudent with our money and the amount of debt we have as a municipality. We also have to balance the needs of our community.”

He finished off with another groaner: “I was in the shallow end of this motion at the beginning. I’ve dipped in my toe, and now I’m ready to jump into the deep end and make a big splash. I am prepared to vote for this. Thank you, and those will be the only puns I make tonight.” 

“Oh, Councillor Tozzo,” sighed Mayor Bryan Paterson.

After posing his own questions about the history of aquatics spending and the City’s financial position, King’s Town District Councillor Gregory Ridge summarized his opinion. “There’s been a need that’s been expressed both in studies… and also anecdotally, from individuals who [tell me] getting their children signed up for swimming lessons is ‘like The Hunger Games’,” Ridge noted. “This [proposal] dovetails very well with other social programs that we’ve been planning… and provides more opportunities for young people to be fit, be active, and to stay out of trouble. So I’m in support of this.”

Portsmouth District Councillor Don Amos used his questions to establish just how many people want to access swimming lessons in the City — nearly twice the number of spots available. He concluded, “This is a really good $25 million spent over a long period of time; we’re literally doubling our impact of helping our children and any residents who want to learn to swim… This is a valuable resource… It’s been a number of years since we’ve moved down this road, so I’m in full support of this.”

The questions kept coming from around the horseshoe, delving more deeply into the finances and into the facilities most appropriate to meet the community’s needs.

Artist’s rendering of an enclosed Culligan Water Park at the Memorial Centre. Graphic via report to Kingston City Council, ‘Aquatic Facilities Options’.

Deputy Mayor Wendy Stephen asked why the Culligan Water Park wasn’t enclosed when it was built.

Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Lanie Hurdle answered, “The city actually received grant funding for the renovation of the outdoor pool. So it was an older outdoor pool that needed to be completely renovated… In order to get the grant money, we had to replace it with an outdoor pool facility… Still, we added a number of features that weren’t there with the previous pool.”

Stephen continued, “I think that CFO Kennedy hit the nail on the head when she said earlier that this is an appropriate use of debt. This is where we are having future people who are using the pool pay for it in the future… This is a completely reasonable way to fund the pool. Further, I think that the 25-metre, 10-lane pool is perfectly suited to meet our community needs. Any hosting of competition to me is a bonus — but I feel we’re obligated to meet the needs of the community. And as has already been stated, we know we need swimming lessons.” 

Williamsville Councillor Vincent Cinanni called the current Culligan Water Park “consistently inconsistent… It is open for two to three months depending on the weather… It’s not guaranteed even to be open all the time.” The pool there would need to be closed for a summer to enclose it. 

“I also discovered a lot of people don’t even know there’s a pool there,” Cinanni continued. “It’ll bring a lot more attention when people can register there to have swimming lessons. And it’ll bring more people to the Memorial Centre, and they can enjoy a lot of the other things there like the farmers’ market… It’ll help revitalize the whole area. So I think that would be a great thing to support.”

Taking the plunge

The vote was unanimous in supporting the staff report and endorsing the enclosure of the Culligan Water Park to make it a year-round facility with a budget of $25.1 million, to be funded by $5.0 million in development charges, $5.1 million from the Municipal Capital Reserve Fund, and $15.0 million in debt issuance.

Further, Council endorsed the concept of a competitive 25-metre, 10-lane aquatic facility and wellness/health centre with a full scope and estimated cost of $102 million, in partnership with the YMCA of Eastern Ontario, with a budget of $3.0 million from the Municipal Capital Reserve Fund for planning, design, and engineering fees.

Council’s vote also directed staff to continue discussions with health-care partners to develop an operational model for the wellness/health care centre, to explore grant opportunities to support the future development of the centre, and to continue to develop a more defined operating partnership with the YMCA of Eastern Ontario that establishes roles and responsibilities as it relates to the potential future development. Finally, Council voted to direct staff to continue discussions with the Frontenac Mall property owner to explore potential partnership for the development of an aquatic facility within the future property development.

2024 aquatics agreement with BGC Southeast

That final point with regard to the ‘Aquatic Facilities Options’ dovetailed nicely into the other aquatics-related item on the Council agenda this past Tuesday night: a renewal of the existing aquatics services agreement with BGC South East.

The aquatics facilities at the BGC of Kingston and Area West End Hub. Submitted photo.

Also on the agenda was a report by Jennifer Campbell, Commissioner, Community Services, which recommended that Council direct staff to give notice to enter into a purchase-of-service agreement with BGC South East to provide public access to its pool at 1300 Bath Road, at a rate of $95 per hour. This price would include all associated administrative, cleaning, and site operations costs, except lifeguard pay. The agreement would be in place for all of 2024, and provide “an annual opportunity for renewal,” according to the report.

The report explained that, since 2015, the City has used the pool at BGC South East’s west-end location to accommodate additional swim programs to meet community needs. After that, “challenges arose” with the interpretation of an amendment to that agreement, which became apparent in 2023, according to the report. Staff have met with representatives from BGC South East, and, as of February 2024, there is agreement that “the clearest way to move forward, would be to return to a purchase of service agreement that is based on an hourly rate for pool times” at BGC South East’s west-end location. If Council supported the recommendation to direct staff to enter into the purchase-of-services agreement at $95 per hour (without lifeguards), “staff would ensure that the 312 hours of swim lessons held at the BGC South East west end location would continue unimpacted,” according to the report.

“Staff would also continue to book lane and drop-in swims as needed and within the approved aquatics budget as a way of continuing to expand aquatic services to the community,” the report states.

Council voted unanimously in favour of continuing the partnership with BGC, directing City Staff to enter into the purchase-of-services agreement to cover those 312 hours at $95 per hour, for a total of $29,640.

“Funding to support the costs associated with the City rental of the pool at BGC South East’s west end location were included in the approved 2024 operating budget of the Recreation & Leisure Services Department,” the report detailed.

The agenda from the Tuesday, Mar. 5, 2024 meeting of Kingston City Council can be found on the City of Kingston’s Council meetings webpage, and the meeting can be viewed in its entirety on the Kingston City Council YouTube channel.

With files from Tori Stafford.

One thought on “City Council makes huge splash with aquatics spending

  • I think we need to look at our streets they are in so bad shape city needs to look at spending money on this before anything else

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