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Outdoor pools too costly? Coquitlam councillors debate

Building outdoor pools may not be the most cost-effective use of Coquitlam residents' tax dollars but they are still important amenities for the community.

Building outdoor pools may not be the most cost-effective use of Coquitlam residents' tax dollars but they are still important amenities for the community.

That was the message from several Coquitlam councillors Monday after city staff presented a draft aquatic services strategy. The report called for upgrades to Spani and Eagle Ridge outdoor pools but did not outline a replacement for the decommissioned outdoor Rochester Pool.

Parks staff noted in a presentation to council that most Metro Vancouver municipalities are phasing out outdoor pools mainly because they are expensive to maintain and can only be used for a few months each year.

But several Coquitlam councillors expressed disappointment at the findings, noting outdoor pools have been important community hubs for many neighbourhoods.

"Cost effectiveness is very important but it is not the only thing," said Coun. Chris Wilson. "Sometimes, we need to look at what is best for different parts of our communities."

Last summer, council was presented with a 531-name petition from Maillardville residents wanting an outdoor pool in the area. The loss of Rochester Pool, the petitioners argued, meant families had to travel some distance to get to Spani or the indoor pool at Poirier Sport and Leisure Complex.

Coun. Mae Reid concurred with Wilson, saying outdoor pools are cheap and convenient for young people who have more time on their hands during the summer months.

The staff report calls for six new spray parks in the next 15 years, to be located at Glen, Rochester and four other parks that have yet to be determined. Reid noted that while spray parks and leisure pools may appeal to smaller children, older teenagers may be less enthusiastic.

"The kids that are most at risk to me are the kids that are between 10 and 19," she said. "I just don't think a spray park is going to do it for them."

Coun. Bonita Zarrillo also weighed-in, noting that the new strategy calls for clustering aquatic amenities into a small handful of service areas. As the city pushes to reduce the number of vehicle trips within its borders, she questioned why the city was building "infrastructure where we are forcing people into more cars," she said.

But several councillors agreed with staff and the recommendations in the report.

Coun. Brent Asmundson noted outdoor pools cost too much money for an amenity that can only be used a few months of the year.

Spray decks, he added, can turn into useful park amenities even when the water is turned off, offering a place for people to sit and relax during cooler months.

Coun. Terry O'Neill agreed with Asmundson, noting the money used to pay for outdoor pools could be spent on amenities that are open all year.

He also had concerns about council questioning the research findings of the city's professional staff members and hired consultants.

"I think that if we start embracing decisions based on more of an emotional aspect than hard facts and figures, then I think we are going down a dangerous path," O'Neill said. "I wouldn't want to do that."

Monday's report noted that indoor pool usage has seen an increase of close to 100,000 swims since 2011 and that between the City Centre Aquatic Complex and the Poirier Sport and Leisure Complex, Coquitlam is at 89% capacity. The two outdoor pools Spani and Eagle Ridge are at 72% capacity and usage has declined in recent years.