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Letter: Region needs ten lane, 50 meter pool

Former lifeguard, swim instructor says new North Peace pool must meet needs today and in the future
Regional demand for swimming activities has long outstripped capacity of local facilities in the Fort St. John region, and has limited athletic development and other programs, says resident Brennan Ross

We understand that the North Peace Leisure Pool Advisory Committee is seeking input from members of the community on the design of the proposed new facility, specifically the size of the main pool. The discussion is centered on choosing to build either a six lane, 25 meter pool similar to the current facility in Fort St. John, or a ten lane, 50 meter pool. The purpose of this letter is to express our firm recommendation that the ten lane, 50 meter option be chosen.

In support of our recommendation, we note the following:

Our family have been residents of the North Peace region since 1920, and have been avid users, supporters and members of the pool facilities and swim teams here for four generations. In its final years of operation, I worked at the Fort St. John Centennial Pool as a PA-III lifeguard and swim instructor. In our view the current six lane, 25 meter pool was inadequately sized when it was built. Regional demand for competitive swimming practices, hosting neighboring communities at competitions and accommodating the other various daily public uses has consistently outstripped the capacity of our facilities for decades, and this has limited the development of our swimming athletes, and several other types of sport, including kayaking, triathlon, diving, synchronized swimming, water polo, school academy swim programs, adult swim for fitness, aquafit, senior’s fitness, public swim and scuba to name a few. To build another facility with a main pool of this size would be a serious and unfortunate underestimate of the needs of the community today and into the future. If taxpayer funds are to be used to build a new facility, then it should be appropriately sized for the needs of the community. A ten lane, 50 meter pool would be suitable.

For many years, the swim teams in Fort St. John, the Stingray summer team, and the Inconnu winter team, were unable to accommodate the demand from local families to include all of the youth who wished to join, in part because of insufficient pool size and availability. Last year, the Stingray summer team, which I was a member of in my own childhood, finally collapsed leaving only the winter Inconnu team still operating. Because of the limited pool size, today the Inconnu team still has a waiting list and many of our community’s families are unable to access this opportunity to experience team sport. This is a direct example of the inadequacy of a six lane, 25 meter pool.

Along with the inherent physical health and mental wellness benefits of competitive swimming, the sport offers a wide variety of financial scholarships and other educational opportunities to youth. To achieve the level of competitive excellence required to win this type of support, our athletes would need to train in a properly sized competitive pool. A ten lane, 50 meter pool would allow for the long course training that is required. A six lane, 25 meter pool does not, and would therefore continue to limit scholastic opportunity for our youth.

A ten lane, 50 meter pool is an efficient, multi-purpose configuration because it is wide enough to be used perpendicularly as a 25 meter pool for short course training. 50 meter pools, like that at the Eastlink Center in Grande Prairie, are equipped with rolling bulkheads to provide quick transitions of the pool’s configuration to allow for more varied simultaneous uses, satisfying the needs of more taxpayers at once.

In the Fort St. John region, businesses and public services including health care and law enforcement continue to experience extreme difficulty recruiting and retaining skilled labor. Convincing families to move here and stay to live and work in the community is nearly impossible, and the inadequate development of our sport and leisure infrastructure, especially when compared to that in neighboring communities like the Eastlink Center in Grande Prairie for example, is one of the significant contributing factors. A facility equipped with a ten lane, 50 meter pool is an undeniable commitment to new and existing residents that our community takes their health and fitness seriously. Another undersized facility would be an unimpressive disappointment to any family weighing the pros and cons of moving or staying here.

Life in the north is uniquely challenging. The long winters, while beautiful, are brutalizing, especially for new residents unaccustomed to the hardships associated with the isolation, cost of living, and weather. Our relatively transient workforce, and the city’s inability to commit the necessary resources to keep the appearance of our streetscapes tidy and inviting are additional problems that successive municipal administrations have yet to solve. With our 100 year experience in this region, our family recognizes that Canadian society continues to shift away from adversity and is increasingly unwilling to forgo the pleasantries of a more developed metropolitan lifestyle. To compete, and to build our community, to create stable, long term growth and economic prosperity in Fort St. John, we must entice people here from places that are much more attractive by today’s standards, and convince them to set their roots. The recreational facilities we build in our communities play a role in charting their futures, particularly when the communities have challenges like ours. To succeed in the north, we must apply extraordinary emphasis on, and exert unwavering support for physical fitness, mental wellness, team sport, scholastic opportunity, social connection, camaraderie and friendship, pride of community, and as it relates to the topic of the day, simply give people a place to develop their excellence.

We have this opportunity to make good decisions now about the construction of a facility that will fit our needs for decades. Let’s be sure they include the correct pool.

Brennan Ross

Fort St. John

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