The Canada Games Aquatic Centre reopened to the public with fanfare on Friday.
“People are loving it,” city lifeguard and fitness instructor Chrissy Cossentine told KTW. “It looks new and bright and a lot of people are loving the new change rooms. It’s been really positive and people are just happy to be back.”
The pool closed for renovations last spring to undergo a major multi-million-dollar rehabilitation project, prompted by a need to upgrade the facility’s building envelope, which was at the end of its life. The pool reopened for swimming lessons and programming in the past couple of weeks, but Friday marked the first day the public returned for a swim, with COVID-19 safety protocols in place.
KTW toured the renovated facility.
The first thing people will notice is a redesigned change room area. Previously separated into men’s and women’s, the area is now open and features individual change rooms.
“We completely overhauled the whole space to make it way more inclusive, way more accessible and increase our safety and security,” the city’s aquatics program supervisor, Andrew Smeaton, said.
The change rooms are now gender neutral.
Smeaton expects everyone to feel more comfortable in the space, with full-length doors for increased privacy. Parents who felt antsy sending kid of the opposite sex into the change room alone now have a sense of security waiting directly outside of their child’s change room, rather than on the pool deck. The same goes for seniors with a caregiver.
Two more wheelchair accessible change rooms were added, tripling capacity, and include adjustable beds, overhead lifts and slings that can be used to get people with limited mobility in and out of the city’s waterproof wheelchairs.
“We used to have lineups for this space in the lobby,” Smeaton said. “We’d have like three or four people in a row but now that we have this space we shouldn’t have that kind of wait.”
Accessibility was a key consideration in the renovation project. A new entrance on the top floor of the pool will now make it easier for those with limited mobility to enter the facility for events and it is also now easier for those in a wheelchair to get into the new hot tub. Equipment lowers wheelchairs in directly.
“It’s kind of like an elevator, you can just roll right onto it and go into the pool,” Smeaton said.
Kids could be seen enjoying a new splash park nearby and a pair of popular poolside pelicans got a repaint.
Gone is the so-called “wind tunnel,” a chilly trek from the old change rooms onto the pool deck. The change rooms now enter at the centre, rather than off to the side.
A new steam room and sauna can be found to the right of the change rooms — moved to make way for the larger hot tub and spray park — though they remain closed amid the pandemic.
Some of the biggest changes to the facility are the ones not seen.
“Everything was stripped right down,” the city’s project manager Darren Crundwell said. “The concrete block you see was there, but the whole envelope, the walls and everything completely new. The roof, all new. It was 30 years old, so failing. Everything there, you don’t see it, other than new white paint — but that’s new.”
Improved ducting “makes a huge difference,” Crundwell said, when it comes to humidity and that chlorine smell.
In addition, it will make a difference on how long corrodible materials in the facility last. The HVAC improvements also includes heat recovery, saving energy and money, with a reduction in the use of natural gas heating. The Canada Games Aquatic Centre previously accounted for 10 per cent of the city’s overall greenhouse gas emissions, with a large portion of that attributed to heating. It is because of the energy efficiency improvements the city received a $2.5 million grant from the federal and provincial government for the project, staff said.
“It’s a huge energy savings,” Crundwell said.
Other improvements include: new LED lighting and a new scoreboard, which will help the city attract new events in the future.
One last thing the city hopes people will notice about the project: it came in on time and under-budget. The budget was $13.5 million. It is unclear at this time how much under-budget the project was, but a report with more details is expected to go to city council in the next four to six weeks. This, despite the project moving ahead at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Social distancing, masks and extra cleaning were all new and contributed to challenges, Crundwell said.
Procurement was of concern to council, though it did not end up being problematic. Crundwell credited contractor Chandos Construction and said procurement of materials was prioritized early so it did not impact the project timeline. It ultimately led to that first day of fun for kids in the new splash park on Friday.
“The team did really good at making sure they secured everything,” Crundwell said. “Basically had it [materials] on the ground, so they controlled the schedule.”