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Victoria to hold referendum on $200M Crystal Pool replacement

Public vote would ask residents whether they support the city borrowing $170M for the project
The city will hold a referendum on whether the public wants to borrow money to pay for a new Crystal Pool facility. (Black Press Media file photo)

Residents of Victoria will get a public vote on whether the city should go ahead with a costly replacement of Crystal Pool. 

Council on Thursday (June 13) decided to hold a referendum that will ask whether the public supports borrowing almost $170 million to build a new pool and recreation facility at Central Park. Council will still get the final vote on how to move forward, but the high price tag spurred it to ask the public for direction on the long-talked-about replacement project. 

The 50-year-old Crystal Pool and Recreation Centre's condition has created service gaps, along with obstacles for those living with disabilities, city staff said, adding the building is also the city's largest emitter of greenhouse gases. Critical repairs have been made to the site over the last five years to maintain its services, but the facility is nearing its end of life. 

The referendum will first ask whether the public supports borrowing $170 million for the project. It will then ask people whether they want the new facility to be located at its existing site or have it developed on the southern part of Central Park, which currently hosts recreational amenities like basketball and tennis courts. 

Using the current facility's site would lead to a shorter construction timeline, reduced complexity and lower risk, according to a consultant firm that conducted a feasibility study for the city. The total project costs would come to at least $209 million if that site is chosen. 

A timeline for this site envisions an almost two-year design period, followed by three and a half years of construction. The current pool and centre would close during construction under this option, but the city would relocate some dry-land recreational programming to Crystal Garden. 

It would cost $216 million to build the new Crystal Pool facility on the southern plot of the park, and that option would take slightly longer to complete. Council decided Thursday that, should the public choose this site, the city would aim to install temporary park amenities, like basketball courts, elsewhere in the neighbourhood during construction. 

Using the southern portion would also allow the current pool to stay open during construction. However, the city and councillors stressed the aging facility could suffer a catastrophic breakdown at any time, which would cause it to shut down. That was a factor in city staff's recommendation for the referendum to only include the current site as a replacement option. 

Regardless of which option the public chooses, the city will allocate $30 million from its debt reduction reserve to cut the borrowing costs. An economic analysis found that building a new centre at the current site would cost the average Victoria household $256 over five years, while using the southern portion would cost the typical residence $265 over that period.  

Council voted to put an additional $17 million toward the project to reduce the potential tax impact, with that money coming from the city's Parking Reserve Fund. 

A previous feasibility study was done in 2017, which led council at that time to allocate $70 million toward the replacement. The project was eventually put on hold in early 2020 due to the impacts of the pandemic. The higher price presented now is primarily due to unprecedented increases in construction costs, due to labour shortages and higher material prices, according to the new feasibility study.

Jake Romphf

About the Author: Jake Romphf

In early 2021, I made the move from the Great Lakes to Greater Victoria with the aim of experiencing more of the country I report on.
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