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How Fredericton Will Become the Only Capital City in Canada Without an Aquatic Centre

Photo by Book Sadprasid.

With the decommissioning of the Lady Beaverbrook Gym—and the Sir Max Aitken Pool (SMA) within it—planned for 2018, Fredericton will become the only capital city in Canada without a competition pool.

Although the university and the city have known the building needed to be closed for a while, there no pool ready to take on the numerous swimmers and user-groups that will be displaced next year.

There are currently three pools in Fredericton: the SMA in the Lady Beaverbrook Gym, the Fredericton Indoor Pool (FIP) and the YMCA’s pool; however, the SMA is currently the only competitive one of the three—the FIP is too shallow and the YMCA has only four lanes compared to the eight required for competitions.

Moreover, the SMA Pool is the only one with a diving tank deep enough for synchronized swimming competitions, as well as the only one with blocks that can be used for competitive swimming.

It’s not as if the SMA Pool isn’t being utilized by the people of Fredericton; it sees over 200,000 user visits per year—and there are numerous teams and user-groups that call the SMA home, including the UNB swim team; the Fredericton diving and synchronized swimming teams; a senior’s swimming group, the Silver Dolphins; and the Fredericton Aquanauts Swim Team (FAST), which is the youth swim team.

Synchronized swimming coach Gabrielle Pearson says that despite the different teams all working to accommodate each other, it can be difficult for them to share one pool—especially since the pool is limited in its competition use anyway.

“The amount of practices we have to cancel, the amount of rescheduling that we have to do that often we can’t make up for… it’s pretty crazy. So we end up losing, on average, one or two practices a week,” said Pearson. “If you look at just the past month, there’s been three times where we’ve cancelled Saturday practices because of other meets or other things that were booked up. It’s often double-booked as well, so we’re very very packed.”

Pearson said she heard rumours of the pool needing to be closed down fifteen years ago.

“I know when I got here in like, 2002, they were saying they were going to close it down pretty soon because of how much it was costing to upkeep.”

The most recent (2015) building assessment for the LB Gym confirms what Pearson said. The assessment shows a deferred maintenance cost of about $7.5 million, but the number has likely risen over the two year period since.

The building assessment also categorizes every single “Requirement”—such as roofing renewal, windows renewal, insulation renewal—as “Beyond Useful Life.” Many of the requirements are listed as currently critical or necessary.

“The changing rooms are very outdated, a lot of the things are broken, a lot of hazards on deck. I know that the lifeguards do a really good job to make sure they pick up [the tiles], but a lot of tiles are broken,” Pearson said.

While Pearson agrees that the building needs be decommissioned, she doesn’t think it should be decommissioned until another competition pool is ready to replace it.

In March 2017, UNB president Eddy Campbell released a message regarding the future of the Lady Beaverbrook Gym, the current kinesiology building, which will be replaced by the Centre for Healthy Living.

“Our effort to build a new kinesiology building began in earnest in 2004, when we developed a vision for a ‘healthy living village’ at UNB Fredericton,” said Campbell in the statement, which was posted on the UNB website. “Our vision included a state-of-the-art athletics and recreation facility, a new home for our Faculty of Kinesiology, and a new aquatics facility.”

These efforts have so far resulted in the creation of the Currie Center in 2011—which does not have a pool—and a new Kinesiology building set to be finished in 2018. After thirteen years, there doesn’t appear to be any concrete plans for a new aquatic centre.

This isn’t to say that UNB is entirely to blame for this issue, however. Despite the pool’s heavy use by non-UNB community members, it appears as if a new competition pool has not been a priority for the city—even though the need for a new aquatic centre was acknowledged by the university in 2004.

Vice-president academic George MacLean said that the university has been in communication with the city for a while about a new pool, but that the new performing arts centre—a replacement for the current Playhouse—has been the city’s number one priority. However, MacLean said that delays in the construction of the performing arts centre could create an opportunity for the city to collaborate on building a new pool.

“Both the city and the university have recognized that sometimes a second or a third-tier priority can also be pushed up a little bit where you have an opportunity to partner. And I think what’s changed for the city is that now the city recognizes fully what the university is offering. Because what we’re offering, I think, is the best deal for the city in terms of a new aquatic centre,” MacLean said.

The city’s current stance on the pool is a bit vague. The most recent statement from mayor Mike O’Brien is that no offers have been made, that there is no impending announcement, but discussions with UNB will continue.

Wayne Knorr, the city’s communications manager, provided more detail:

“Councillors indicated they would take a leadership role, and there have been meetings going on with the city and UNB to look at the issue further. Some of the things that are in consideration are what can we do to accommodate any of the displaced swim programs in our current facilities, and then to talk about what the future looks like in regards to another aquatic centre.”

In the meantime, the swimming community has made efforts to lobby for a new aquatic centre. Jennifer Andrews is a professor in the UNB Department of English and a member of the Capital Region Aquatics Facility Team (CRAFT).

CRAFT was formed in 2006 to 2007 to lobby for the SMA pool to stay open—and to ensure that the new facility’s construction would be meet each group’s requirements. To do this, they have been working with the #MakeWaves campaign.

“We have a petition with over 7000 signatures, asking for action to be taken to building a new pool, and I think there have been some really good indications of support,” Andrews said. “Make Waves has delivered that petition to provincial, federal, UNB and city staff, so it’s been given to all of those constituents to say ‘this has wide community support, it deserves funding, and it deserves prominence on the agenda at the city and in the region.’”

Andrews also expressed concern about the potential losses that could emerge from not having a pool—including an exodus of coaches and swimmers. Furthermore, it could result in a drop in the number of retirees emigrating to the city, as many rely on pools for their health and wellness.

Although Andrews is a professor at UNB, she joined CRAFT as a former competitive swimmer and as a parent who is concerned that her daughter may lose something very valuable in the SMA. Andrews said that being a part of synchronized swimming has given her daughter great self-esteem, body image and role models. Now that the pool’s future is uncertain, Andrews is concerned her daughter might lose those benefits.

“It pains me to think about what would happen if she didn’t have that, because I think for a lot of kids it teaches them really great values—but it also gives them a way to focus on their lives, and to have a purpose when there’s a lot of stuff going on for teenagers that makes life really hard,” Andrews said.

Swimming is a sport that people can do for their whole lives. The SMA pool, which sees kids start young in the FAST program and seniors who are part of the Silver Dolphins, is proof of this. But with the future of a competition pool in the city uncertain, FAST has seen a decrease in the number of kids joining—meaning that kids are missing out on the start of a lifelong sport.

Bea Lougheed, who swam and now coaches for FAST has noticed the decrease.

“If you swim, you can swim for the rest of your life. It’s pretty sad to see that kids are choosing other sports and not getting those essential swimming skills at a young age, […] but we have been noticing that there’s been a large decrease and parents have been coming up to us and asking what our plan is to continue with the team,” she said.

Both the university and the city have known since at least 2004 the Lady Beaverbrook Gym would need to be decommissioned. Despite ongoing talks between the city and the university to construct a new aquatic centre, it appears it may be some time before one is built in Fredericton—leaving the future of numerous competitive and noncompetitive groups that utilize it, in up to 200,000 user visits, uncertain.

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