Committee ponders future of 50-metre Harry Bailey pool
Facility fails to meet international requirements
by Jill Smith
The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon)
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
A city committee will decide this week what to do with the 50-metre pool at the Harry Bailey Aquatic Centre.
The public was asked what to do with the pool, in light of the Shaw Centre's 50-metre pool opening in the spring. The pool at the Shaw Centre will meet the international requirements to host competitions -- something the Harry Bailey pool has been unable to do since 2000 when new facility revisions were made.
"When people got the sense that this pool may close early on, a lot of people stepped forward," said Coun. Bob Pringle, who sits on the committee.
A report headed to the committee states there is "overwhelming support" for keeping the Harry Bailey pool open. In fact, no one who showed up at a public meeting held in March was willing to discuss the idea of converting the pool for land use.
"I totally agree with the public on this one," said Coun. Pat Lorje in an interview. "This is not the time to be closing down public leisure facilities in established areas of the city."
There are three options for the Harry Bailey pool, according to the report.
One option is to close the 50-metre pool and revamp the space to accommodate other land recreational and educational uses. But since no one wished to discuss this, administration found it difficult to decide on specific potential programs.
Another idea is to keep the 50-metre pool open and issue a challenge to the public to increase usage. Swim groups are toying with the idea of developing additional aquatic programs for inner-city kids, and pool administrators are planning creative draws like a pool party and battle of the bands, which they expect will attract about 950 people later this month.
The third option is also to keep the pool open, but to get rid of the bleachers surrounding the pool to make way for other recreational programs.
Many respondents to a phone survey conducted in March liked this idea.
Pringle says that option makes sense to him.
"It makes it more versatile," he said.
Whether it's feasible to keep both pools open remains to be seen -- which is why some people at the meetings suggested doing nothing for a couple of years after the Shaw Centre opens to see what happens to Harry Bailey usership.
Coun. Charlie Clark says the real question for him is, "Is it feasible to shut it down?"
"It's very expensive to replace something like that," he said. "Once it's gone, it's gone."
Several councillors say they expect the population to continue to rise in Saskatoon and they believe there will be a need to have both pools.
They added the Shaw Centre isn't as accessible to many people living in the core area.
"We need to plan for the day, but we also need to plan for the future," said Coun. Darren Hill, whose ward encompasses the Harry Bailey.
He says swim groups already predict scheduling issues if only the new pool is open.
The report states that in May 2006, council intended to close down the Harry Bailey pool "immediately upon opening" the Shaw Centre pool. The idea was to use the reduced operating costs from Harry Bailey to off-set the operating costs of the Shaw pool.
Although Pringle sees the benefit of having both pools, he's concerned about the cost -- especially since the building costs of the Shaw Centre have gone up since it was first approved.
"At what point do we put some of these public projects on hold and say we can't afford it?" asked Pringle, who added that project building costs and operating costs do draw from different areas of the city coffers.
Pringle says the cost of building the Shaw Centre pool has risen from the original estimate of $23 million to $39 million.
"We've been assured that that's the end of it," he said. "I don't believe that."
Pringle says the Shaw Centre pool will be a huge attraction for the city, adding that there's only a handful of pools like it in the world.
"I like that too -- if you can afford it," he said.
© The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) 2007