Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Who's going to take the plunge?
(Daily Gleaner Editorial; June 15/11)

Who wants a new indoor pool?

The city certainly doesn't, at least not one to call its very own. It wants desperately to share any future pool with lots and lots of others. No surprise there. Municipalities everywhere have become almost allergic to building recreational facilities. They are money pits.

But with the University of New Brunswick's Max Aitken pool up for decommissioning, the new UNB Currie Center built without a pool and the YMCA pool a non-competitive size, this city will be without a pool that both meets international competitive standards and is deep enough for dive training.

However, the last thing the City of Fredericton needs is the building, staffing and maintenance of a new pool. That's the last thing taxpayers need as well. So the city's got a plan - get some partners involved, perhaps UNB and the local service districts surrounding the city.

It began the process on Monday night with approval for an $80,000 feasibility study. You can't solicit potential partners without handing them a document that tells them what they're getting into. It's a mighty expensive document, mind you, but a necessary foundation to begin this partnering process.

We believe UNB will need a pool, and we also believe nearby LSDs should seriously consider helping fund this project. Everyone likes to use the services, but that should also mean everyone helps pay for them. A $20 hike in an annual property tax bill isn't a big burden, but it would sure help maintain a pool.

We'd like to suggest that the swim groups involved begin this partnering process as well, by pitching to businesses. Corporate sponsorships can help tremendously. Swimming is excellent exercise and therapy for arthritic bodies. Surely businesses that serve senior citizens would be interested in getting a piece of this sponsorship action.

Here's another opportunity: sell the naming rights to the pool. Who cares if it ends up to be the McTims Memorial Pool? It will cost the taxpayers and the city less money even if the name is tacky. The City of Fredericton has invested heavily in infrastructure in the past few years. The convention centre and two arenas come to mind.

We are used to a city that minds its finances with great caution. We don't want that to change. That's why our tax rate is much lower than Saint John's or Moncton's. We benefit from that frugality. That's why we see a feasibility study of $80,000 as an investment. If this whole plan doesn't work and after years of negotiations no one wants to jump in with a fist full of money, then we've wasted $80,000, but at least we know the reality.

If, on the other hand, that $80,000 investment produces financial partnerships that make the building of a pool viable for Fredericton taxpayers, then it was worth the money.

It will probably be years, maybe even a decade, before a pool is built. This is just step one to test the waters.

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