UNB - City Strike a Deal

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City, UNB, province strike agreement.

After months of failed negotiations and public debate about the future of the Sir Max Aitken Pool, a tentative deal has been reached to keep the aging University of New Brunswick facility running for at least three more years.

On Monday night, in front a standing-room-only aquatics community crowd, Fredericton council voted unanimously to re-offer $140,000 a year for three years to help keep the pool open.

That pledge came on top of a $260,000-a-year commitment from the province.

On Tuesday afternoon, UNB said it would cover the rest of the pool’s projected $590,000 annual operating cost.

Previous attempts between the city and UNB to strike a temporary or permanent pool deal broke down over cost-sharing differences. But the province’s pledge to cover the funding gap appears to have ended the stalemate.

UNB will also assume the liability risk, confirmed vice-president academic George MacLean - assuming there isn’t a“major issue”with the facility.

“The board of governors met this morning. We had a long discussion about this development and the board felt that [the offer] did meet the basic requirements and conditions and expectations we had,”MacLean said.

“We feel that this is a tentative agreement.”

Fredericton Mayor Mike O’Brien said the key to the city’s reignited $140,000-a-year offer was a meeting with New Brunswick Infrastructure Minister Bill Fraser last week, where the province offered to kick in $260,000 a year. The deal means the city will continue to recoup about $100,000 a year in property taxes from the facility.

“[The deal] gives [three years of] security for the aquatics community,” he said after Monday night’s meeting. “It was an offer we thought was fair for the taxpayers of Fredericton several months ago, so it was easy to honour that.”

Fraser also welcomed the news.

“We’re going to finalize something here very soon that will see that pool remain open,” Fraser said.“My involvement came about quite frankly because of the community.”

Fraser said he heard about the pool from Liberal election candidates going door-to-door in the city.

“Nobody approached our government or the Regional Development Corporation to ask for assistance,” he said. “When I was approached we reached out to the city and UNB to offer some financial assistance.”

Members of the aquatics community, who have lobbied the city and UNB for months to strike a deal to keep the pool open, were thrilled.

“[Council’s decision was] hugely significant on multiple levels,” said Chris Ramsey, president of the Capital Region Aquatics Facility Team, after Monday night’s meeting.“It also gives us new time to get a new pool built or almost built.”

Ramsey also said the aqua - tics community will raise as much as $50,000 over three years to help pay to keep the current pool open.

We’re going to finalize something here very soon that will see that pool remain open.

And there were also signs that the hunt for a new pool site will soon begin in earnest.

Several months ago, after talks between the city and UNB about a new facility broke down, council signalled it wanted to find a new site - and new partners - for a long-term replacement.

On Monday night, council’s pool motion also directed city staff to start looking for partners to fund a new pool, find a site, and come up with a design.

But O’Brien said that doesn’t mean Fredericton now has two capital funding priorities.

“There’s been some back and forth about whether we’re allowed to have two priorities or not or more,”he said. “It’s been quite clear to us when we spoke to federal and provincial officials – pick one, you cannot have both.”

The mayor said the new performing arts centre is still the city’s number one capital priority.

“If the province says they can fund us on both projects we can do both projects,”O’Brien said.

Council’s pool motion also directed city staff to start looking for partners to fund a new pool, find a site, and come up with a design.