More public engagement will have to take place before a regional aquatic centre comes to the Alberni Valley. That was the word coming from the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District board at their Dec. 12 meeting.
There has been plenty of talk in recent years about a replacement for the 1967 Echo Aquatic Centre, which would be jointly funded by the City of Port Alberni and Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District. In June of this year, elected officials from the city, the ACRD and Tseshaht First Nation met to start a conversation about the potential of a sub-regional Alberni Valley aquatic centre. The groups decided that discussion would reconvene after the fall election. The ACRD board officially asked staff to work with the city on developing a regional action plan in August.
In September of this year, the provincial and federal governments announced a joint funded grant opportunity for communities looking to invest in local or regional recreation infrastructure. There is $134.84 million of total available funds through the program, and the application deadline is Jan. 23, 2019.
Although the city and ACRD agree that this grant would be suitable for replacement of the aquatic centre, neither will be submitting an application for the pool. Both groups have decided that it is “too premature” to consider submitting an application, as there has not been enough public engagement.
Port Alberni Mayor Sharie Minions, who is also a director on the ACRD board, said during a board meeting last Wednesday that the city is “completely supportive” of the regional district’s desire to go slowly.
“We want to work with the regional district on it and we want to make sure that all of the directors have enough time and proper process to engage their residents,” she said. “We have a lot more work to do as a city, as well. We are excited to move forward with this process, whatever it ends up looking like.”
The ACRD will move ahead with a facilitated meeting in order to evaluate the appetite for a sub-regional aquatic service, as well as specific parameters for governance and funding for that service.
Moving ahead with this project will require “significant staff and elected official time and participation,” according to a report from environmental services manager Rob Williams, and additional resources will probably need to be hired. ACRD staff agreed to bring back a proposed budget for the 2019 work plan. Costs for the facilitated governance and funding session are estimated to be $3,000, and the ACRD board has recommended that the city cover these costs, since they have already budgeted funds for a pool.