Some Port Alberni residents are concerned about the reduced hours at the community pool, but city staff says these current hours are based on costs, attendance and COVID-19 restrictions.
Two people sent letters to Port Alberni city council on Monday, Feb. 8 expressing disappointment in the reduced hours at both the Echo ‘67 Aquatic Centre and its attached fitness centre. A few posts on social media also make note of the waitlists at the pool, which fill up quickly now that hours have been reduced.
“I find that being able to work out indoors during inclement weather is huge for my mental health and now the gym has become only for those who can book the quickest when time becomes available,” Port Alberni resident Erin Keizer noted in a letter to council.
The aquatic centre was closed after the novel coronavirus pandemic was declared back in March 2020. It re-opened in October, with some new safety measures in place. People have the ability to sign up for particular time slots so the facilities aren’t overwhelmed by traffic.
The sauna and hot tub remain closed, following provincial guidelines.
Director of parks, recreation and heritage Willa Thorpe explained during Monday’s council meeting that staff have been tracking attendance at the pool since it re-opened in October, and these new hours cut out sessions that saw less than 50 percent attendance. The pool is now closed on Saturdays and in the evening.
“How we got to the current operating hours were based strictly on attendance,” said Thorpe. “Why are we closed on Saturdays? Frankly, our Saturdays were not busy relative to the other days of the week.”
During a previous council meeting in December 2020, council gave city staff authorization to modify facility operations as needed in response to COVID-19. At the time, Thorpe warned council that there might be some “pushback” from the public.
The city did receive a $3.5 million grant from the provincial government, to be used to cover the costs incurred by COVID-19. In December, Mayor Sharie Minions warned that this should only be used as a “last resort” to keep the Echo Pool open.
“I think we all want to keep offering the services that we offer, but at the same time, we need to make sure we make decisions that in a time like this lose as little money as possible,” she said.
During the Feb. 8 meeting, Thorpe said that because current provincial health orders have been extended “indefinitely,” city staff are looking to keep the current hours in place until the fall of 2021. After the pool’s annual summer shutdown, staff will review the hours.
“Staff are trying to balance strong service and being fiscally responsible,” Thorpe said. “We’re fortunate that we have remained open with any operating hours,” she added, noting that other facilities on the Island—for example, Nanaimo’s Beban Park Pool—have not re-opened since the pandemic was declared last March.
Thorpe says the pool capacity fluctuates depending on the intensity of the activity. Generally, capacity ranges from 22-25 individuals. The pool is required to have a minimum of two lifeguards present at all time.
“Unfortunately, these are the difficult choices that we’re forced to make right now,” said Minions on Monday.
The topic of a new pool is on the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District’s strategic plan, with plans for community engagement starting this spring.