Gibsons council has voted to send what Mayor Bill Beamish said will be a “strongly worded” letter to the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) asking that the pool in Gibsons be included in the regional district’s reopening plan for recreation facilities.
The formal request to the SCRD follows a review of more than a dozen letters from Gibsons residents at a Sept. 15 committee of the whole meeting.
Beamish said the letters, emails and calls councillors have had on the issue were mostly from seniors who use the pool and its facilities for health, recovery after surgery and social interaction. He said they expressed concern about losing those benefits, the extra travel that would be needed to get to the Sechelt Aquatic Centre and “the question of fairness between services and communities.”
Coun. Annemarie De Andrade added that she felt another benefit would be that having all the recreation facilities in Gibsons reopened is a sensible COVID precaution.
“The more we separate the communities, the better we defend ourselves, instead of being exposed,” she said.
Last week SCRD general manager of community development Ian Hall told Coast Reporter the decision to keep the Gibsons pool closed was made to “balance service to the community, ratepayer expectations, recreation’s contribution to our region with fiscal responsibility and value for money.”
Beamish said Gibsons residents and council recognize there would be a cost associated with keeping the pool open.
“Yes, there’s going to be additional cost and yes it’s going to go on our taxation,” he said. “But right now our taxation is paying for the additional cost of the Sechelt pool, and the services that people in Sechelt are receiving from that.”
Coun. David Croal, who represents Gibsons at the SCRD, told the committee of the whole that he’s asked for a more detailed breakdown of the estimated $61,000 in operating costs as well as the capital costs – for installing things like Plexiglas shielding and other COVID protection measures – the regional district says it would have to pay to open the pool from Oct. 1 to the end of the year.
Croal also said reopening recreation facilities is becoming “a growing issue” at the SCRD board table.
“It boils down to, putting aside health benefits and one thing and another, what people are prepared to pay for,” Croal said. “Right now we’re at five per cent [budget increase]. Open the Gibsons pool, it’ll probably push it to eight per cent. Open the Sechelt arena with ice, it’ll probably push it to 12 per cent. Are people prepared to pay it?”
Others on the committee said the SCRD has not provided enough detail about the additional costs or the rationale for keeping the pool closed.
“It just doesn't make sense to me that keeping a facility closed and not getting any revenue from it is somehow more economically viable or makes more sense than having at least some revenue coming in,” Coun. Aleria Ladwig said.
Coun. Stafford Lumley said he wants to “see the hard numbers.”
“I’m sure that if you do look at it, it shouldn’t even be a factor at all. The pool should get opened.”
Beamish said one option the Town could offer the SCRD is help with the capital costs of reopening from a reserve created through a citizen bequest when the pool was owned and operated by the Town. “It’s generated about $70,000 in interest over that time… We could contribute from that reserve to the capital cost and reduce that.”
He also said he feels what the SCRD does now will have implications for the long-term future of the pool.
“The longer it stays closed the easier it is to keep it closed,” he said. “I think that that’s the other thing we have to bear in mind – that if we don't put some pressure on, it will be an easy afterthought to say, ‘Well we’ve managed without it for this long, let’s kind of build our life around the Sechelt pool.’”
The resolution passed by council urges the SCRD to reconsider the continued closure of the pool and to “provide information regarding the associated costs of pool operations.”
– With files from Sophie Woodrooffe