Council decides against exploring cost to rehabilitate Mount Forest swimming pool

WELLINGTON NORTH – Taxpayers here won’t find out what the current cost of rehabilitating the derelict Lion Roy Grant pool would be after all.

Councillors veered away from exploring the cost of saving the pool – and possibly taxpayer money – during a May 9 council meeting.

Rumblings of exploring rehabilitation over building a new pool at the Mount Forest and District Sports Complex were brought up at an April 25 meeting.

Mayor Andy Lennox said a question had been posed to him following an April 21 Mount Forest Lions Club meeting about the cost of fixing what the township already has.

“I thought that was a really great question, that we probably need to explore a little bit to better understand what’s the appropriate way to proceed with this project,” Lennox told councillors in April.

Councillor Steve McCabe advocated for a cost analysis of bringing the existing pool up to modern standards without “putting lipstick on a pig.”

“It’s our job to look after the public money,” McCabe said. “I think it would be in our best interest as people who make decisions on how and where taxpayers’ dollars go.”

Councillors Dan Yake and Sherry Burke felt the concern was years too late.

“There’s been too much work and too much effort put into moving ahead to turn back,” Yake said.

“I honestly thought we were past this in 2018 when we started these discussions,” said a frustrated Burke, who is also chair of the Mount Forest aquatics advisory committee, tasked with assisting with raising funds for pool extras.

At the April 25 meeting, McCabe introduced a motion to discuss the feasibility of rehabilitation at the May 9 council meeting, with the potential of directing staff to explore the cost.

The motion passed in a 3-2 vote with councillors Burke and Yake opposed.

Letters arrive

A letter arrived eight days later, on May 3, written by Mount Forest Lions Club president and aquatics advisory committee member Vern Job, addressed to council.

Job wrote about the club’s “extreme disappointment” with the comments made at the earlier council meeting by Lennox and McCabe.

The club president disputed he and Lennox had discussed rehabilitating the old pool during a “long, private” and “positive” conversation on April 21, referenced by Lennox.

“Many Lions and citizens are of the belief that a very expensive engineering report with regards to [rehabilitating] would only prove what we already assume – that the only viable solution is a new pool,” Job wrote.

Another letter, written by Lions Club and aquatics advisory committee member Raymond Tout, arrived as the May 9 council meeting convened.

Tout took issue with the merit of rehabilitation, anchoring his frustrations in a report from Triton Engineering which examined demolition, upgrade, and new pool options in 2016.

“In general, the existing pool and change room building is dated and requires major renovations or replacement to bring it up to current public pool standards and building code standards, and to modernize it to ensure it provides a viable, safe, and attractive recreation facility,” states the report.

Triton estimated demolition with a new pool at $1.5 million, an upgrade at $1.28 million, and a new pool at a new location at between $1.5 and $2 million.

It was recommended the pool be replaced with a new pool at a new location in the township’s 2018 Recreation Master Plan. In 2019, council approved the Mount Forest and District Sports Complex as a location for a new pool, and, in 2021, staff began requesting design proposals.

Lennox owned his role in the discord, saying he had since reached out and apologized to Job.

“When I brought the issue up of addressing the question of ‘What would it cost to rehabilitate the existing pool?’ it was never my intention for that to represent the view of the Lions Club,” the mayor said.

“My intention was to try and prepare council for the inevitable questions around this,” he added.

Both Lennox and McCabe said they hadn’t yet reviewed the 2016 report on the pool before making their remarks two weeks earlier.

McCabe has since become “100 per cent confident” that a new pool is the way to go since reviewing the report. “I wanted to be sure that we’re doing the right thing,” he offered.

Burke said aquatics committee volunteers who were left “deflated” and “quite upset” by the April 25 meeting would be “ecstatic” with the change in tone.

“I’m just glad that the work that has been done so far has not gone to waste, because that would be a huge disregard to the taxpayer’s dollars,” she said.

Diving into debt

In March, three pool concept designs were presented in a public meeting, followed by surveys to collect public feedback. Regardless of the design chosen, any one will require at least $5.5 million to make a reality.

CAO Mike Givens said grants aren’t reliable enough to bank on and staff would likely recommend a loan spread out over 25 years with annual payments in the range of $400,000 to pay for the pool.

“Boy, oh boy, this is a huge bill and we need to figure out a way to pay for it that will be palatable to the people,” the mayor remarked, adding that, by his math, taxpayers could see a 4% tax increase to cover the pool alone.

Staff have yet to assemble feedback collected in surveys about pool concept designs presented in March. And a preferred design would still have to go to the recreation, parks and leisure committee for approval and recommendation to council.

“I want to keep the conversation going so that we can get on with it …. I mean the frustration level is ridiculous,” Burke remarked.

No resolution came from the spirited discussion, but Givens recommended the pool be discussed regularly at future meetings with council to begin making decisions about its future.

Councillors agreed with a suggestion to bring the pool back for discussion at the next meeting on May 24.