The new Crystal Pool and Wellness Facility needs a location once again.
The City of Victoria had originally planned to have the facility built at the south-west corner of Central Park, adjacent to its current location. Plans for this spot were mostly complete, and a good amount of provincial and federal funding had also been secured.
However, in November 2018 city council approved a substantial change to the project at the request of the North Park Neighbourhood Association (NPNA) and the Downtown Victoria Resident’s Association (DVRA). Both parties voiced concerns about a lack of consultation, and a fear of losing greenspace.
The groups advocated for the consideration of other properties, and most strongly argued for the use of the parking lot behind the Save-on-Foods Memorial Arena. While the city owns the property, it’s subject to a long-term lease to RG Properties Ltd.
This week it was announced that while the City went into discussions with RG Properties, they could not come to an agreement.
In a letter sent out to residents by Thomas Soulliere, director of parks, recreation and facilities, it was said that “The parties were unable to find a mutually acceptable arrangement.”
The City is now considering two alternative sites.
The first is the public parking lot at 940 Caledonia St., across from the Royal Athletic Park. This site had previously been considered by council.
The second is a site newly identified by the Greater Victoria School District: the western portion of the field next to Central Middle School.
City Staff are recommending the Central middle school location.
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said she sees the merits of both sites, but that choosing the school site would leave more possibilities open for the parking lot.
“With that space we could look at creating things the neighborhood has been asking for like a community centre, a welcome centre, childcare and potential for affordable housing,” Helps said.
She also added that the space might be an alternative site for a contentious assisted-living development currently proposed for 950 Kings Rd.
Regardless of where the pool is going, however, Helps felt the most important thing was making a timely decision to avoid closing the current, failing Crystal Pool without having a new option available.
“We do need to make a decision soon,” she said. “What council will need to do is wrestle with what’s the best option, land on one and give staff a clear direction.”
Changing the plans added significant cost to the project, which was originally tagged at $69.4 million.
Originally, $200,000 was estimated for the analysis of other sites, which went hand-in-hand with over six months of planning delays. An updated estimate would see a $260,000 price tag for a feasibility study at the site.
With the delays came increased construction costs. In an earlier interview with Black Press, Soulliere estimated costs could rise as much as $500,000 per month following February 2019.
Extending the project also withdrew the city from the first year of federal-provincial funding through the Investing in Canada Plan, which could cover as much as 72 per cent of the project. This is a 10-year plan, however, and the city could still get some funding from it.