December 26, 2017
Daily Gleaner commentary this morning:
ARE FREDERICTON’S POOL WOES ALMOST OVER?
It’s been a long time coming, but it looks like the city and the University of New Brunswick are on the verge of solving our region’s pool problem - a befuddling drama that never should have happened.
For the years the university sounded the warning the Sir Max Aitken Pool was in dire need of replacement, that it had reached the end of its lifespan.
No one seriously listened.
Then, in spring, a clearly frustrated UNB leadership group dropped a bombshell, announcing the pool would be shuttered in September 2018.
The result? Almost a year of unnecessary drama - a standoff between the city and UNB, and a controversy that drew in all walks of life, including residents, doctors, parents and Olympians.
But a few months after Fredericton Mayor Mike O’Brien declared residents would just have to get used to not having a competitive pool for a while - a comment condemned by many, including this newspaper - he and the rest of the council changed tack. Suddenly, going without a pool for a while wasn’t really an option.
And so, here we are: seemingly on the edge of an agreement that will hopefully start the groups involved on a path towards a new facility.
There’s been some games played on both sides.
Just as the city was adamant that residents would just have to accept not having a pool, UNB was certain that it was impossible to keep the old pool running beyond September 2018, and that maintenance costs on the existing facility had already ballooned beyond $500,000 a year. UNB was asked several times - can’t it just stay open for another year or two? The response was consistent: absolutely not.
Now? Not so much.
The city, meanwhile, has been consistent on its top priority: refurbishing or replacing the Fredericton Playhouse. After that? Its ‘in-kind’commitment to a $30-million expansion of the Fredericton International Airport - a proposal that won’t involve a cent of investment from the city.
When questioned on why that project, which it won’t have to help fund (the airport authority already has its third of the cash, and the province and feds are expected to chip in the rest), was a bigger priority than the pool, city officials said supporting too many projects at once sends mixed messages to Ottawa, and that it was important that the feds knew exactly which projects the city wanted funded the most.
It stretches credulity to think Fredericton MP Matt DeCourcey couldn’t explain the nuances of this city’s situation to his colleagues in Ottawa.
So where to from here?
Hopefully, early in the new year, the city and UNB will hammer out an agreement in principle that will keep the old facility running while a new one is built.
Perhaps, when it’s all over, key players on both sides might reflect on how they handled the pool problems and resolve to do things differently next time. The uncertainty and stress this drama created for the most important people - its users - was far greater than it needed to be.