Kingston Council to decide on over $6M aquatics partnership with Loyalist Township

A rendering of the interior of the pool facility within the Loyalist Township Community Hub Project, to be built at the WJ Henderson Recreation Centre in Amherstview. Image via Loyalist Township.

As part of a ‘deep dive report’ advising Council of potential solutions to the city’s lack of aquatic programs and facilities, the City of Kingston is recommending Council approve a multi-million-dollar partnership with a neighbouring municipality.

The report, authored by City CAO Lanie Hurdle, offers a stated purpose of providing City Council with “an update on the aquatic and wellness centre strategic priority.” Entitled ‘Aquatic Needs Assessment and Loyalist Township Aquatic Centre Partnership,’ the report will go before Council at their first meeting since Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023, back in Council Chambers following the summer break. The meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2023.

Among a number of items the aquatics report recommends is the approval of a partnership with Loyalist Township and a contribution from the City of Kingston to that project of “up to” $6,550,000, with funds to be drawn from the Municipal Capital Reserve in 2024, 2025, and 2026. The report suggests this partnership and contribution to “support Loyalist Township’s new aquatics facility, subject to City of Kingston residents having equal access to recreation programming at the expanded facility for a period of 20 years.”

Readers may recall the project in question as the “Community Hub Project” for Loyalist Township, which received more than $16.5 million in federal funding in December 2022. The Community Hub Project came after Loyalist Township Council directed the closure of the WJ Henderson Recreation Centre in April 2022 (the pool had been closed in March 2022), and will sit on the same property where that recreation centre stands.

The documents going before Kingston Council on Tuesday purport to offer “high-level information and recommendations supporting ongoing work and partnerships for the development of additional aquatic facilities and a wellness/health centre,” and note that City staff will report back to Council later this year or early next year “with more information on other mid-term options to increase service access.”

“These options are more complex and information on costing will not be available until late 2023,” reads the report.

“It is important to note that as per the 2023-2026 City of Kingston Strategic Plan, staff are also considering sports tourism and wellness programs with a focus on health promotion/rehabilitation and recreation as part of a new aquatic centre.”

In December 2022, Council directed City staff to report back to the Arts, Recreation and Community Policies Committee in the third quarter (Q3) of 2023 with information on possible partnerships, options, timelines, and costs associated with the expansion or addition of aquatic services for Kingston residents. However, “considering the magnitude of these initiatives, the partnership implications, as well as associated budgetary decisions, staff have decided to report back directly to Council to allow all members of Council to be fully engaged in the discussions,” CAO Hurdle’s report explains.

Noting several reasons – including population growth, a post-pandemic return to activities, and “operational challenges in various aquatic facilities previously serving the community” – the report states that the City has seen “increasing pressure” to provide aquatic services. Having retained consulting services to conduct an “aquatic facility needs assessment review,” staff outline that the city/region needs two new pools in the “short-medium term” of 2026 to 2031. This is based on a one pool per 40,000 residents service level, the report notes, which is “a higher level of service than the approved Parks & Recreation Master Plan.”

To create that service level, the City will need one new pool by 2031 “in addition to the reconstruction and expansion of the WJ Henderson Recreation Centre in Amherstview,” otherwise known as the Loyalist Community Hub Project.

The report notes that, since City staff recommended Council approve a partnership with Loyalist to see the construction of an expanded “Community Hub Project” in November 2019 – which was in an effort to secure grant funding through the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program (ICIP) with an up to $1.5 million contribution from Kingston – that grant application was not successful. As noted above, however, in its continued efforts to secure funding for the project – then estimated to have a total cost of approximately $43 million – Loyalist Township did just that, when the Government of Canada invested over $16.5 million in the project through the Green and Inclusive Community Buildings Program.

Despite the funding, the cost of the Community Hub Project has “increased significantly” since 2019, the report outlines.

“The total cost of the project is now estimated at $49.3M for the overall project including some arena upgrades and common spaces. The overall municipal contribution is about $32.7M. The municipal portion of the aquatic facility renovations and upgrades are estimated at around $26.2M,” it reads.

“The City has the opportunity to continue to support the partnership that was initially established in 2019 which would provide City of Kingston residents with the same access as Loyalist residents.”

Noting that the continued partnership would “enable Kingston residents to access aquatic services at the same time and at the same price as Loyalist residents for a period of 20 years,” the report states that the City of Kingston’s contribution to the project – equivalent to 25 per cent – is now estimated at $6,550,000. Loyalist Township staff will be taking a report to Township Council related to the project and partnership in October 2023, according to the report.

New partnerships — and potential new pools — will help Kingston residents secure swimming lessons for their kids, according to a report to City Council. Photo by Kevin Paes.

On top of this – as the partnership with Loyalist would not be “sufficient to address the current and future gap in service as identified in the needs assessment,” the City of Kingston will need to “add a new pool” between 2026 and 2031. For this, the City will “need to consider partnerships to support the replacement of the current Kingston YMCA Eastern Ontario (YMCA) facility, the potential improvements/expansion of the Culligan water park and the inclusion of wellness/health centre within the development of a new aquatic facility.”

The report further recommends “the development of a new aquatic centre with a focus on the INVISTA Centre property and a wellness/health centre that would align with the development of an aquatic facility.”

The final recommendations of the report include that Council direct staff to continue discussions with Queen’s University, St. Lawrence College, and Kingston Community Health Centres, as well as BGC South East (in addition to the YMCA) on the development of a health and wellness centre hub, a new aquatic and recreational facility, and a handful of additional and supporting programming and services. The only financial consideration in the report is that of Council directing staff to “complete a fundraising/sponsorship assessment, possibly in partnership with the YMCA of Eastern Ontario, and authorize the Mayor and City Clerk to enter into agreements and contracts not to exceed $50,000, to be funded from existing capital budget, with appropriate service providers and partners.”

As always, a full agenda for the meeting can be read on the City of Kingston website. The meeting will begin at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2023, in the Council Chambers of City Hall, and will be streamed live on the Kingston City Council YouTube page (where it can be viewed in full afterwards).

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