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Decision for aquatic centre expansion needs to include impact on taxpayers and businesses

Grand Forks aquatic centre; Photo, Mona Mattei
The public will decide on the expansion of the aquatic centre fitness facilities that will cost $1.5 million at referendum this year, but local business owners want the community to have more information about the true impact of this cost before the vote.
 
The vision to expand the fitness centre that operates under the Grand Forks Recreation Commission has been in the works for 11 years. The first proposal went before council in 2000 with a price tag of only $240,000 but was rejected.
 
In 2010 the commission put it back on the table with new drawings and cost estimates. In April they recommended to the board of the Regional District of the Kootenay Boundary that the project proceed to referendum.
 
Brian Johnson, owner of Flexus Body Systems, questioned the decision to proceed with the expansion at the aquatic centre. Johnson noted that financial reports on the aquatic centre show losses every year. The aquatic centre announced in March that it will be closed for six weeks this fall in order to manage their budgets.
 
“Usually if one wants to expand a business it’s because they’re busting at the seams,” said Johnson. “Is it really worth the cost of going to referendum for this decision? If the centre is already running at a deficit, to expand into another 3000 square foot facility, it’s going to be an ongoing cost. You take a losing situation - it might not be the best investment for the future.”
 
Johnson said there needs to be more information provided to the public about the actual costs of the facility and the construction and consideration given to how $1.5 million could be better used in other recreation options around the community.
 
“With a non-profit organization like the aquatic centre, conflict (can happen) with businesses in Grand Forks who form the tax base. We were never approached to see if we had concerns. We’ve been in competition before,” Johnson added noting the lack of community input on the project.
 
The existing facility is 600 square feet full of equipment, accessible only by crossing the pool deck which limits access to staff availability.
 
“We have a maximum capacity of maybe eight to 10 people on a good day,” explained Mackey. “We’ve been running classes of close to 20 – 25 people in that space for a number of years. A lot of the initiative for this project has come from our user groups who have expressed concern.”
 
Mackey said that people have had to be turned away from classes because of the restrictions on the space. The new design can hold up to 50 people in the fitness centre and another 50 in the studio a total of just under 3000 square feet. Mackey said cost estimates as of November 2010 totalled upwards of $1.5 million.
 
The new facility would see 32 additional hours a week of operation for the fitness facility using 46 staff hours per week. One of the spin offs would be freeing over 2000 sq ft of activity rooms in the arena that potentially could be used as a youth centre for the community, explained Mackey.
 
The building will include environmentally friendly designs using no fossil fuels and will see a net zero increase to carbon footprint of facility.
 
“There’s always the question about how it’s going to impact the private sector. The private sector is demand driven, whereas the public sector is need driven. GF Rec does not compete with Flexus, Curves or Jazzercise. We offer services to all socio-economic and demographic sectors. We do not duplicate services with them,” Mackey commented.
 

Grand Forks council accepted the presentation made by Mackey at their Jun. 27 meeting, and made a motion at their Jul. 18 meeting to support the referendum on the expansion question at the upcoming elections in November.