Confusion surfaces as council dives into Mount Forest pool discussions

KENILWORTH – Wellington North councillors say there should be some degree of separation between the splash pad and pool projects in Mount Forest.

On March 11, councillors reviewed the Mount Forest Aquatic Advisory Committee meeting minutes.

While the minutes included a recommendation on a new site for the pool, committee chair councillor Sherry Burke said there was a lot of frustration at that meeting.

“I think that part of it is that most did not understand the process the municipality must use,” said Burke, adding “the municipal world is not the same as the outside world.”

She explained there are certain steps required to move an RFP (request for proposals) from start to finish.

“I think we would being doing a real disservice if we do not continue along the path laid out by the committee,” Burke said.

She noted that during the design process, some people involved said the decision had already been made – and would continue to be made – at the council table.

Burke said while final decisions are made by council, “the public’s input is important.”

She said now is not the time for finger pointing, adding, “There is a lot of momentum going … and I don’t want to lose that momentum.”

Burke said the committee’s work needs to continue.

Councillor Steve McCabe said the splashpad and pool are separate projects. He then spoke to the minutes of the meeting, in which members discussed the pros and cons of making use of a professional fundraising firm.

McCabe said, “It may sound harsh, but if they need a professional fundraising firm, why do they need the Lions at all?”

He asked who would then be the township’s partner in the project: the Lions club or the fundraising firm.

Burke said “we do need the Lions club and any service group in our community for projects such as recreation.” She agreed there were exploratory questions asked regarding fundraising from a couple committee members.

However, Burke said this was likely based on some frustration that final costs are unknown at this point.

“There was a number thrown out, which was extravagant, with regard to extras,” said Burke.

She said there were past projects in Wellington North for which fundraising efforts did not reach overall project costs. “The Lions club is putting on a lot of events to raise funds for the project and the pool remains very near and dear to their hearts.”

McCabe stressed it was not his intent to suggest the club was not needed; “We do rely heavily on our service clubs.”

Burke said, “Early on, the committee understood this would be done as a two-phase project.” 

She contended “we don’t have to have all the money in place to begin work on the splashpad and pool.”

“We need to have the money for the splashpad raised first.” Once that $212,000 is raised, Burke said the splashpad would be built.

“The community understands that,” she said.

Councillor Dan Yake said “we want to do the splashpad first” and then focus on the bigger project: the pool.

Burke said the sooner the money can be raised, the sooner it can be complete.

Councillor Lisa Hern asked why the splashpad and pool cannot be considered as separate projects.

“I personally find it a bit confusing … and if I were going to donate for a certain project … I would want to know whether it was for the splashpad or a pool,” said Hern.

Burke said the one good thing about the recent Aquatic Advisory Committee meeting is “every one of us is now engaged in the project.”

She said “if someone wants to write a large cheque for just the pool, the person could write on the cheque stipulating it is just for the pool project.”

CAO Mike Givens said that the issue has arisen from tying the projects together.

“We can collect a pot of money, but if people want clarity – the projects and the fundraising need to be separate,” he said.

Without the separation, “it is just one single pot of money.”

Givens said he understood the committee wants to raise funds to cover the splashpad and the pool improvements. He noted the issue from the perspective of municipal staff is that they are not to proceed with the projects until the money is at hand.

Givens added that at this point $200,000 has not been raised.

Even so, Givens said what he’s heard is that all the funds would need to be raised before either project could move ahead – but the overall costs for the pool enhancements are not yet known.

Burke said her understanding is that when funds for the splashpad are in place, that project will go forward.

At the same time, fundraising efforts would continue to be used for the pool project, using the same fundraising campaign.

Givens said the intent was for the splashpad to be built in 2019, but no timeline was established for construction of the replacement pool.

He said the concern is that fundraising efforts may not begin until the pool costs are known, but that will not happen until there is a final design.

Mayor Andy Lennox said he struggles with what appears to be a “chicken versus egg discussion.” He did not know how to finalize the pool design until a reasonable fundraising goal is established.

Lennox questioned what would happen if a pool design is established but fundraising does not cover the cost.

Lennox said he was flabbergasted at the idea of bringing in a professional fundraiser. “I’m struggling with this and who is responsible for what,” he said.

Lennox said he had assumed that until now, the Lions had intended to be the fundraising arm.

The mayor pointed out the township has already committed to a replacement pool of similar to the current one. The fundraising is for enhancements to the new pool.

Councillors later endorsed the Aquatic Advisory Committee’s recommendation for a new location for a replacement swimming pool.

The current pool is located at Parkside Drive near the Mount Forest cenotaph. The new pool will be across town on Princess Street, adjacent to the sports complex. The new location takes into consideration the availability of nearby parking and servicing.