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New West residents launch petition to keep Hume Park outdoor pool open this summer

Capital improvements, staffing issues and COVID-19 physical distancing needs factor into city's plan to close pool this summer
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Hume Park outdoor pool won't be opening in the summer of 2021 - much to the dismay of some Sapperton residents.

Sapperton residents have a sinking feeling about the city’s summer plan for Hume Park outdoor pool.

Having learned the city doesn’t plan to open Hume Park outdoor pool this summer, residents have launched a petition on change.org in an effort to get the city to reconsider its plan. The petition, which has been signed by more than 250 people, states the pool provides swimming lessons, entertainment, a chance for the kids to be physically active, an opportunity for parents to relax with their children, a chance for children to get out and play.

“Hume Park Pool is the ONLY walking distance activity in Sapperton. We have no library, no skate park, no artificial turf, nothing but this pool,” said the petition. “It is the highlight of the year for all the residents of this area.”

The city’s website describes the pool as “an oasis on a hot summer day” and notes that “children love splashing and playing while adults join in or relax on a chaise lounge.”

Sapperton resident Rnold Smith said the pool is a treasure in the neighbourhood and an important amenity to the Sapperton families.

“Sure, the little kids can go and play on the playground but if you want to engage kids, like eight to 15, the pool is such a treasure,” he said. “Not only that, it’s just such a gathering place for everyone. It means a ton to the people here.”

Smith hopes the city will reconsider its decision to close Hume Park outdoor pool this summer.

 “In this year of difficulty, this is such a bright spot for mental health and for community wellbeing,” he said. “If there is any way to reverse this decision and keep it open, it would go a long way to making this community feel cared for.”

Smith said there wasn’t a big outcry when the city didn’t open the pool last summer because people understood the city was still figuring out COVID protocols and developing plans to keep people safe at its facilities. He said residents are keeping their fingers crossed the city reverses its decision.

“I think they really misunderstood how much it was missed last year,” he said. “The kids were heartbroken.”

City’s response

Steve Kellock, the city’s senior manager of recreation, said staff went through a series of workshops in the fall in preparation for the 2021 budget year and made decisions based on the current state of the pandemic and some of the constraints the city was facing, including physical constraints.

“One of the decisions that was made was to close Hume Pool for this year, and it will open in 2022,” he said. “We have a plan to do some of the capital work that needs to be done and a plan to resume operations going into next year.”

Kellock said some work that had been planned for last year had to be deferred because of the pandemic.

“We intended to do some of that work this year to ensure that we were ready to be open and good to go for next year. It’s just a bit of a catch-up to get the facility ready to be operational in 2022,” he said.

Weather plays a role when work can be done at the outdoor facility.

 “Some of it is sealing work on the pool tank. When you want to paint and seal any of the cracks or address any of the tile work, it always is better when you have a period of favourable weather,” Kellock explained. “One of our local challenges is just how wet it can be. That was part of why we lined some of that work up for that time.”

Kellock said New Westminster and other cities with pools are also “facing a deficit in the industry” after the organizations that certify lifeguards and aquatic staff put all their training on hold at the start of the pandemic.

“I’ve looked to some of the surrounding municipalities, and there are a few that have made some closure choices as well. And there are others that are already starting to raise the flag in terms of the constraints they are seeing coming forward for their staffing resources,” he said. “It’s one of the other factors playing into this, in addition to how we had planned our work plan in the fall. We went through the budget planning exercise to try and make the best decisions we could at that time in that phase of the pandemic.”

Kellock said Canada Games Pool and Moody Park Outdoor Pool won’t be impacted by staffing challenges because the city had always been planning for those facilities to stay open this summer.

Since the pandemic began, Kellock said city staff have become experts in delivering safety plans that have allowed all of the city’s facilities to reopen to the public.

“We are quite confident in our ability to keep the community safe,” he said. “That said, Hume pool is a very small facility, and due to the current orders that are in place there would be very few people able to be in that space at any given time, which would very much make it serving a very small segment of the community, whereas through Moody and Canada Games Pool we can maximize community access into our facilities during these COVID realities. That was again a factor in our prioritization.”

Kellock said staff will be presenting a comprehensive report about Hume Park outdoor pool to city council on March 29.

“The two things I would say are we look forward to opening Hume pool in 2022,” he said of his message to residents. “We also encourage people who are really passionate about that facility and that park to engage with us through the master planning exercise so that we can talk about the long-term future. We would welcome feedback and input. We really have looked to try and maximize opportunities to serve the community across parks and recreation across the city. And while it’s not at Hume, we hope we can accommodate people in some of our other spaces and some of our other programs and services.”

The Hume Park master plan process is underway and is considering the future of the Sapperton park.

Follow Theresa McManus on Twitter @TheresaMcManus
Email tmcmanus@newwestrecord.ca