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Back to the drawing board for pool plan

Park board to establish advisory committee to review ‘VanSplash’ proposal
After making waves with swimmers at Lord Byng pool, the park board’s VanSplash proposal for city pools continues to meet opposition. Photo Dan Toulgoet

The Vancouver Park Board will take a second look at its contentious pool plan with the help of an advisory committee.

On Thursday, the board announced it will strike an external advisory committee to “assist in developing a revised version of VanSplash.”

“This decision follows an 18-month city-wide consultation, which surfaced a wide variety of viewpoints on the future of our pools and beaches,” the board said in a press release.

VanSplash is the proposed long-term plan for the city’s pools, beaches and other aquatic amenities.

Last December park board staff presented the plan to commissioners, laying out the future of Vancouver’s indoor and outdoor pools, wading pools, spray parks and beaches, and other aquatic attractions. It included a variety of elements: a destination natural outdoor pool along the Fraser River; a harbour deck in a prominent location; a new, larger pool at Britannia; a new destination pool with a sport-training focus at Connaught Park; an outdoor pool in South Vancouver, with Marpole and Killarney community centres as possible locations; as well as upgrading or replacing changing rooms, concession stands and food services at beaches.

Elements of the proposal did not sit well with some pool users.

In an earlier draft, Lord Byng and Templeton pools were slated for demolition. They were to be replaced by new, larger destination pools at Connaught Park and Britannia Community Centre. Users of the two smaller pools rallied to save them, and later recommendations kept the pools open pending a review of the impacts of the new pools and consultation with pool users and the community.

Residents concerned about the impact of a larger pool at Connaught Park, which is currently home to a community centre and rink, have spoken out saying it would take away from the feeling of community at the existing facility and that there needs to be more public consultation before a decision is made. An online petition saying as much was started this week and had more than 170 signatures as of Thursday afternoon.

Rebecca Lockhart, who has spoken out against the idea of a destination pool at the park, said the process has to revisit the idea that residents want more large, destination pools.

“The original public engagement did not, in my opinion, conclusively indicate this. If the plan is intended to be responsive to what the public wants, there needs to be clarification that there is clear community support for a movement towards more destination pools,” she said in an email to the Courier. “There is a clear alternative, which is more community and neighbourhood pools in more neighbourhoods, so that people can have recreational and community amenities closer to home.”

Back in December, commissioners heard from close to 50 residents over two meetings before voting to defer discussion and debate of the proposal until January. At the January meeting, commissioners voted 4-3 to refer the plan back to staff for further consideration of the role of neighbourhood pools in the community and the qualitative experience of pool users.

“Swimming is our most popular recreational activity and we’ve heard a lot of different opinions on future directions for our aquatics system,” board chair Stuart Mackinnon said in the press release. “A re-set with an external advisory committee representing a range of users and perspectives is the best path to a long-term plan.”

The park board will issue an open call for members of the public to apply to join the committee in the coming months. As well, an external facilitator, who has not been involved in the project thus far, will help the board to identify priorities and refine the plan.

Staff will report back to commissioners on the revised plan in 2019.