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Tentative timeline for YK's new pool as planning continues

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Residents will get to vote on plans for Yellowknife's new swimming pool in early 2021 and the pool could open in 2023, according to the latest timeline.

Staff at City Hall have spent months planning what was recently revealed to be a $50-million aquatic centre, complete with a 52-metre pool, smaller leisure pool, "lazy river" and other attractions.

However, budgetary concerns could yet see that plan watered down, and the process of making a final decision has been put off to allow staff more time to plan what will be built, and how.

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The City has a cap on what it can borrow and is also trying to raise money to replace its underwater pipeline to the Yellowknife River, which is how the water treatment plant draws water and is another eight-figure project.

On Monday, City of Yellowknife community services director Grant White provided city councillors with an updated timeline for the project.

White expects pre-planning for the pool to take two years, followed by a referendum – which legally must be held, given the amount of money the City would need to borrow – in February or March of 2021.

If the plans pass the referendum, construction would begin, with a target of completion by March 2023.

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White presented councillors with two options on how to proceed with construction, known as "design-bid-build" and "design-build".

As an accompanying briefing document explained, design-bid-build allows the City to retain control over the design, and of quality control when it comes to construction, while permitting quick and relatively cheap changes to the design before construction begins.

However, that option would mean the process takes more time, since design work would have to be complete before the City could issue a tender for construction.

The second option described by White, and recommended in the briefing document, is design-build – which effectively hands off design and construction of the facility to a third party in one package.

This results in a shorter schedule as work can commence prior to the design being finalized and costs are theoretically easier to control, as the budget is identified, finalized, and agreed at an early stage.

However, this option also means the City sacrifices a considerable amount of control over the design process, and could incur high costs for any changes made after construction has begun.

'A good way forward'

Councillor Niels Konge declared himself on board with the recommended design-build approach.

"It's going to be easier as councillors to find out where we want to be," said Konge. "We are going to get three different proposals that council is going to be able to look at.

"Based on the discussion we've had in the past, it's what people are looking for. I think it's a good way forward."

A page from a report presented to councillors shows a concept for Yellowknife's new aquatic centre
A page from a report presented to councillors shows a concept for Yellowknife's new aquatic centre.

Councillor Stacie Smith brought up the broader concern of whether such an expensive facility will bring in more people.

"The main thing that comes to mind when I think of an aquatic centre," said Smith, "is will it pay for itself?

"What is the present usage for our present pool? Do we have a lot of traffic going through there? I know I've been there with my kids and it's not even at capacity, so I wonder, will a new aquatic centre bring in more people?"

More than three-quarters of Yellowknife households, in a survey, said they use the current pool at least once a year.

The current pool, which the City is looking to replace after more than three decades’ service, is heavily subsidized – even though it received 82,859 visits in 2017, a 15-percent increase in usage on 2015.

The annual operating cost of a new building housing a 52-metre pool is pegged at more than $3 million, doubling the annual cost to the City compared to the present Ruth Inch Memorial Pool.

New committee

City councillors are set to make a decision on their preferred construction approach on March 25.

The next steps are expected to involve a consultant being hired to oversee the design process, prior to final plans being presented in a referendum. The City has already budgeted $1.75 million for this portion of the pool construction, including the hiring of a project manager and a consultant, and the holding of an eventual referendum.

The City has access to $12.9 million in federal funding to help meet whatever final price tag is agreed for the pool – a grant which also saw the City commit $4.3 million of its own money to the project.

Part of the work coming up will see a public information and communications plan developed, to keep residents informed of what is happening.

An aquatic centre development committee – whimsically shortened by White to "AC/DC" – is also set to be formed. Such a committee, featuring user groups and members of the public, will advise staff as plans are drawn up.

With files from Ollie Williams