Swim club calling for 8-lane pool at new Oshawa community centre told to try Whitby to meet needs

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Published May 15, 2024 at 2:43 pm

swim meet

The Oshawa Aquatic Club says the abruptly downsized pool component in a $150 million community centre planned for Oshawa’s booming northwest is a blast of cold water in the dreams of athletes with Olympic aspirations.

But the City says the club should look to a 10-lane pool now under construction a few kilometres to the west in Whitby to meet their needs instead.

“It’s a shame that Oshawa is short-sighted on this issue and unsupportive of their athletes,” said club President Julie Reid, who has been in discussions with the City and with the consultants working on the future community centre’s design for two years. “This new community centre could have been a legacy piece for the city, a centre they could be proud of.”

The new community centre, which will be located at Thornton Rd. N. and the future Britannia Avenue West extension, south of Hwy 407, will include a 10,000 sq. ft. library; an Oshawa Seniors Centre branch; an 8,000 sq. ft. multi-purpose gymnasium and indoor track; and outdoor amenities, including a baseball diamond, soccer pitch, pickleball and basketball courts, a splash pad and junior playground area and an area that can be used for events such as a farmers’ market.

It will also contain an aquatic centre, which in the recreation needs assessment report – approved at committee this week – still calls for an eight-lane pool that will meet the needs of a competitive swim club.

But when spiralling costs post-pandemic hiked estimates to as much as $250 million and put the project in jeopardy, Oshawa Council decided a fat-trimming exercise was needed and chose the pool component as its target, reducing the building from 150,000 sq. ft. to 100,000, sq. ft and trimming the swimming lanes in half to just four.

The club had no issues with Council re-visiting the design concept for the community centre to bring forward a more “fiscally responsible” alternative design, but the pool shouldn’t have been the area to carve out those savings, Reid contends, adding that a four-lane pool with “zero depth” will not be sufficient for any sport club’s needs.

Returning the pool back to eight lanes – recommended by planning consultants Monteith Brown – will cost the City an extra $966,000 – barely half a per cent of the total cost – and will translate to $4 million per lane to build, instead of $7.8 million per lane for the four-lane pool, Reid noted.

“Taking a business-minded approach, would you rather construct a superior facility that will accommodate future growth for $1 million more than an inferior style of pool that will be overcrowded soon after opening?”

“Please think hard about this; it honestly does not make any sense to the taxpayer.”

Oshawa Councillor Tito-Dante Marimpietri, who chairs the City’s Economic and Development Services Committee and whose ward the future community centre is in, said staff has been looking at ways to make the finances work, “but it’s obviously and unfortunately extremely cost prohibitive” for taxpayers.

“Moreover it may be seen by some as duplication of a rather specialized facility which in function will be provided by a neighbouring municipality,” he said, citing the 160,000 sq. ft. sports centre now under construction in neighbouring Brooklin that will include a 10-lane, 25-metre pool – the largest in Durham Region when it opens next year.

The Whitby recreation centre has already broke ground and is expected to open in late 2025.

Marimpietri said he has offered to “broker a conversation” between the two municipalities to try to satisfy the Oshawa swim club’s needs.

“Ultimately, the important focus is on securing space for these groups within our region, even if it means outside of the borders of our city,” he said. “The reality is that if the money is not there to activate a larger play, then we must do our best working together to creatively do things differently and achieve our collective goals.”

Canadian swim star Summer McIntosh

The club, in a letter to council earlier this spring, said there is “pent-up demand” for “exceedingly popular” swim lessons and a four-lane pool just won’t cut it. “An eight-lane pool will accommodate future needs where a four-lane pool will be oversubscribed in less than five years with lessons alone,” said Reid.

Very few municipalities build four-lane pools anymore, especially communities the size of Oshawa, and the concept was abandoned in the 1970s in places like Brampton due to complaints of overcrowding and the inability to accommodate adequate lessons sets.”

The club pointed to a report from the Aquatic Sport Council of Ontario that showed that an eight-lane sport-friendly pool will accommodate more lessons and reduce the net deficit costs as a result, particularly with the 60-year lifespan of the facility.

Reid said planning consultants Monteith Brown looked at all the club’s asks and concerns and brought a “very clear message” to council that a sport-friendly pool and facility was needed in this area “as Durham has some amazing young athletes.” But Council “did not connect further” to learn more about the needs and wants of the club or other user groups for the new facility.

She also made a presentation to Council in 2022. “It was well received and I was asked if I would like to be a part of the planning committee,” Reid said. “But I never received an invitation to further offer ideas, opinions or suggestions.”

The Oshawa Aquatic Club, which has two swimmers at the Olympic Trials now underway in Toronto (including Reid’s son Camden, who will compete in the 200-metre butterfly Friday) must scramble to find adequate training venues for their competitive swimmers.

The club is based at the Donevan Recreation Complex, which is a six-lane, 25-metre pool at risk of losing its safe dive start certificate. The depth in the shallow end, Reid explained, could potentially be the cause for concussions for competitive swimmers when they come into the wall for turns.

The only other six-lane pool in the city is at the Civic, which is actually 25 yards, not metres, making it unsuitable for training or competition, she added.

The other two pools – at Delpark and South Oshawa community centres, are three-lane pools used strictly for recreation.

“We do train out of the south end pool but it’s only a 2.5 lap pool. My son’s wing span has him touching the lane ropes when he swims in the middle lane while training for the fly.”

Training for long-course (50-metre) events are another story entirely. The closest 50-metre pool is the Pan Am Games complex in Toronto (where the Olympic Trials are being held) and the club rents one lane every Saturday for long course training. “Markham Pan Am pool is the next closest but it’s unavailable for our use as they are at maximum capacity for their own competitive teams that use that facility. Plus the rental cost for both facilities is simply out of our budget.”

Reid noted that a six-lane, sport-friendly pool at the new community centre was never discussed in any of the reports she had read. “Had I been given the opportunity for a reconsideration of the scope of the project I would strongly suggest either renovate the Civic pool to 25 metres or push for a six-lane option in the new facility.”

Reid also suggests the City work with Ontario Tech and Durham College as potential partners and talk with other user groups who have been successful in getting various government grants.

“But, again, we were never re-engaged from council to bring ideas forward.”

Getting an audience with councillors since the revised community centre project was announced last month has been frustrating – “I’m at another brick wall trying to penetrate this silly system” and Reid fired off another letter to Oshawa Council Tuesday, urging them to reconsider the proposed changes and revisit Monteith Brown’s rationale for recommending an eight-lane pool in the first place.

Reid noted in her letter the 8-lane versus a scaled-down 4-lane option carries a financial impact of just $16,000 capital dollar cost per year over the 60-year lifespan of the pool.

She also asked that Council “consider the impacts” of not providing any public discussion at any council or committee meeting prior to the construction tender and be open to “sharing ideas together” with user groups to “benefit the community at large.”

Delpark Homes Centre is the only indoor aquatic centre currently serving areas north of Adelaide Avenue right now and the City’s Recreations Needs Assessment report cited “significant pressure” for aquatic programs, with that pressure expected to grow stronger in the next ten years.

The report declared that Oshawa would need an additional 1.5 aquatic centres by 2031 based on current growth, reaffirming the consultant’s view that an eight-lane pool is the right call for the new community centre. “The degree of growth projected beyond 2031 – particularly in the northwest – supports a slightly larger design template whereby the indoor aquatic centre contains a 25 metre pool with a minimum of eight lanes.”

Council voted 9-1 vote last month to proceed with the original scope of work, with the swimming pool footprint reduced and a few other “fiscally responsible” modifications, including scaling the building size back by a third.

Those ‘adjustments’ made to the design brought the cost down to a more manageable number from an “untenable” $209 million figure approved last November.

The pool suffered most of the bleeding – the ‘bodies of water’ for the swimming lanes, leisure swim area and potential water slide will be reduced to one and the hot tub/sauna components will be removed – but other areas in the community centre were also hit, including:

  • The library, which will be reduced in size, making it compatible with the Delpark Homes branch
  • The common space and the gymnasium, which will both be cut back a bit with the weight room/fitness area shrunk in size
  • HVAC, electrical and mechanical requirements through “significant” efficiencies and other modifications

“If we don’t move forward with this we’ll never move forward, with all the escalating costs,” Marimpietri said at the April Council meeting, calling the future community centre a “flagship” facility.

It is expected to take about a year for staff to produce revised concept designs and tender documents, with the construction timeline of at least 18 additional months, pushing completion to sometime in 2027.

Reid noted the half-century-old “small but mighty” Oshawa Aquatic Club has enjoyed a bit of “unprecedented” success lately, with the two at Olympic Trials (the other is 15-year-old Grae Running, who swam the 100-breatstroke Monday) and seven swimmers now competing at the national level.

She pointed to a report from the Aquatic Sport Council of Ontario that showed that an eight-lane sport-friendly pool will accommodate more lessons and reduce the net deficit costs as a result, particularly with the 60-year lifespan of the facility.

“We would like to attract a greater number of swimmers from north Oshawa so that they can swim locally. A four-lane pool with zero depth will not be sufficient.”

“We would ask that you do this once and do it right.”

swimming pool

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