More discussion needed for replacing Echo Aquatic Centre

Before outlining a detailed plan to replace the aging Echo Aquatic Centre, more discussion is needed between the city and regional district.

Replacing the aged Echo Aquatic Centre needs to be a joint regional project and not solely driven by the City of Port Alberni, says city director of community services Theresa Kingston.

And for that to happen, more discussion is needed, she said at the Feb. 14 city council meeting.

“Last year we talked about preparing a plan for the aquatic centre and in last year’s five year plan that was included,” Kingston said. “Following that, there were discussions around shared services between the city and the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District.”

During the 2016 budget discussions, city staff were requested to prepare a report outlining a plan for the replacement of the Echo Aquatic and Fitness Centre.

Since that time, Kingston wrote in a letter to council, it was determined that the initiative for a new facility must include direct involvement of ACRD elected officials and that the development of a plan for replacement would be part of ongoing discussions regarding shared services.

Staff did not proceed with the development of the plan because they were awaiting an outcome from a shared services discussion.

“From our perspective, it’s not a discussion that we want to drive, it’s a discussion that we want to participate in because we have a stake in it, but so does everybody in this community or everybody who could potentially be using it,” said mayor Mike Ruttan.

“For us it’s a massive decision especially in light of all the other financial decisions we have to make over the next short while.”

After recognizing the need in 2010 to eventually replace the aquatic centre, city council directed staff to undertake a feasibility study of options for replacing the facility.

Published in November 2011, the Echo Aquatic Feasibility Study outlines six options for a new facility that would cost between $15 million and $18 million, and range from renovating the existing building to building a new facility and using the old one for other purposes.

“It has become increasingly apparent that any new facility development needs to be initiated in partnership with the regional district,” Kingston wrote. “The discussions on shared services will be the foundation for such decision making.”

In advance of any decision, Kingston expects that the plan would most likely include components such as an agreement between the city and the ACRD to pursue shared services in replacement of the aquatic centre, development of financial plans for the facility and creating a community organization that would champion the building of a new facility, garner community support and raise funds.

“I suggest that debate is really important to happen up front and the more dialogue and discussion is better than starting down a path and then having questions that aren’t answered or haven’t been discussed,” Kingston said.

“At the political level those discussions and agreements need to happen before you start to engage volunteers in driving the process.”

Ruttan finished the discussion by addressing the need to look into making decisions regarding the aquatic centre.

“In the strict sense we’re not driving [the project] but in another sense it is of urgency to us because we are paying for the present facility that is getting older and older and we need to make some decisions about what’s next,” Ruttan said.