Early in 2009, just as Victoria’s newly elected councillors were settling into their chairs, they were hit with a shocking report. The Johnson Street Bridge, City staff said, would need to be refurbished or replaced in the next two years, or it faced decommissioning.
You know the rest – frantic applications for federal funds, heated debates about seismic risk and traffic demand, a $49-million borrowing bylaw, a referendum – and all the while, Victoria voters wondered why the state of the bridge had never been discussed before the 2008 election.
Well, history may be about to repeat itself. Early in the new year, Victorians may get another costly surprise, this time concerning the Crystal Pool.
In May 2009, when the City of Victoria applied for federal stimulus money for the bridge, it identified the Crystal Pool as the other huge infrastructure problem facing the City. Consider this excerpt from a Times Colonist story at the time:
$58-million dream for Crystal
City applies for stimulus funds to replace aging swimming pool
By Bill Cleverley, Times Colonist
May 12, 2009
Decision time is drawing near for the money pit known as the Crystal Pool.
The City of Victoria has earmarked the pool for replacement in its application for federal government stimulus funds – at an estimated cost of $58 million.
If not replaced, the 38-year old Crystal will need $10 million to pump 10 more years of life into mechanical systems that are obsolete.
It already takes $1 million a year and minor mechanical miracles to keep systems operating.
“The building is lovely but the guts inside it are old …. It’s more than run its lifetime, so the question is: Do you keep on patching and making it work?” said Coun. Chris Coleman.
“It’s worked well in the ’70s but it’s very costly to maintain,” said Kate Friars, city director of parks, recreation and community development. “I would say if we don’t invest, at the very minimum, the $10 million to the mechanical systems we’ve identified through the various studies over the past few years … we would have to probably recommend decommissioning [of the pool] within the next five years.”
Nothing has been done since then. So what’s the state of the Crystal Pool today?
In February of this year, Open Victoria spokesman Derry McDonell started asking that question. City staff told him an internal evaluation of the facility’s condition was being done by the City’s engineering department, and that it would be completed in six weeks. McDonell kept asking, all the way through to July, whether the report had been completed. The City wouldn’t say.
Then, on August 23, the City’s parks and recreation department issued an RFO (tender request) for contractors to carry out fireproofing, ceiling repairs and other work on the Crystal Pool, starting in December 2011. The RFO said the pool would be closed December 5 to January 15 – six weeks, instead of the usual three over Christmas – to undertake the work, which would cost from $250,000 to $300,000. (Download the RFO here.)
The RFO also cited a document called the Crystal Pool and Fitness Centre Evaluation Report, prepared by CEI Architectural Planning Interiors, and submitted to the City on July 14, 2011. Was it possible to see a copy of that report?
Nope. The question was passed around City Hall, and eventually landed on the desk of Rob Woodland, the City’s corporate administrator, who said the request was denied, and invited McDonell to file a FOI (freedom of information) request. McDonell did so, and on September 9, the City refused that request too, stating that the report had not yet been presented to Council, and that it would be in the next 60 days. McDonell asked for a specific date of the presentation, but City staff couldn’t say when that might be, so he filed an appeal with the province’s Information and Privacy Commissioner.
Will the report be revealed? And will Victoria voters be given a clear assessment of the state of the Crystal Pool, the potential costs of replacement or repairs, and a plan to pay for it all before the 2011 election?
We need to know. Victoria cannot afford another January surprise.
By Ross Crockford
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