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Joint Councils Approve New Swimming Pool Bid

Athabasca area residents have about two years to get their swim suits ready.


Both Town and County Councils have voted to move the pool project forward.


At a joint meeting on June 7, both councils accepted the $15,295,000 bid from Clark Builders to build the new facility by the Multiplex.


They met in the Athabasca County Council Chambers, and "authorized administration to enter into a Design Build contract."


The majority on both councils argued the numbers, while slightly higher than expected, were still favourable, adding that councils should "strike while the iron is hot."


"Based on the numbers I see here, I see this as very favourable on the Town of Athabasca," Mayor Roger Morrill said during the meeting. "[This pool] is something that will serve this community for years to come."


"I have no problems putting my full and total support behind this project."


He claimed to have crunched the numbers, and said paying back $5 million over 20 years will cost $326,151.28 each year, while paying it back over 25 years will cost $283,134.88 each year.


The total cost, including a 5 per cent contingency amount is $16,381,915.


Based on a 60-40 split, that works out to $9,829,149 for the County, and $6,552,766 for the town.


If the built-in contingency with Clark Builders' bid is not needed, the total cost would drop to $15,617,165.


Again, based on the 60/40 split, the county would pay $9,370,299, while the town would pay $6,246,866. 


Current costs for the project have been listed at about $440,000.


Costs Could Increase if Delayed


Councillor Tanu Evans was the only town councillor to oppose the motion, while Councillors Jack Dowhaluk and Paul Ponich opposed the county's motion.


"The plebiscite was for us borrowing up to $5million, you can't use that argument over and over," Evans said. "Maybe it's time we go back to another plebiscite and ask people if they want this project."


"I think this project has gone above and beyond what was originally thought. It's overkill for what this community needs."


County Councillor Denis Willcott noted that as a builder he expected costs to keep increasing the longer the project is put on hold.


"I am for the pool," he said. "I understand it's election time, but I have to stick my neck out and go with this."


Meanwhile, Jack Dowhaluk said the county was initially looking to spend $5 million on the pool.


He said he would "love a swimming pool," but noted that the county should invest in other necessities, like infrastructure.


"Is that what we're doing – building a swimming pool for doctors?" Dowhaluk said, referring to a point by Shelly Gurba, who said a new pool would attract professionals like new doctors to the area.


"How about the farmers in Wandering River? How about the farmers in Caslan?" Dowhaluk went on. "Let's give our head a shake."


"You know, you look at the infrastructure in the eastern part of the county, and other parts of the county, it's deteriorated to a point where it's a total disaster."


Evans also raised the point that there were no operating figures presented at this meeting, saying they will only go up.


Tim Verhaeghe though said there is a possibility that there could be some savings due to efficiencies with the new building over the current one.


"You need these types of amenities for people to want to live and work here," added Warren Griffin.


"Yes, you can't forget other infrastructure, but the pool is also one component."


The current Athabasca Landing Pool facility is 37 years old, he noted, well beyond the usual 25 year lifespan of a building.


Recreation is Expensive


Other councillors - including Doris Splane and Joanne Peckham - noted how their children spent hours at the pool while growing up, keeping them out of trouble, so to speak.


"Recreation is a costly process," said Splane, noting she was initially against the pool, but now sees more pros than cons. "It is something our ratepayers demand."


Just prior to the vote, Paul Ponich - like Jack Dowhaluk - said he was for the pool, but couldn't fathom spending $9 million on it.


"I was fine with [the County] spending $7 million on it," he noted.


Following both councils agreeing to move forward, County Mananger Ryan Maier said there was a stipulation of the RFP that they could negotiate with the winning bidder to try and brings costs down.

"The public wants us to build it right," Griffin added. "They don't want us to take shortcuts."


Fundraising and Grants to Reduce Capital Costs


There was also discussion on fundraising and grants, so far sitting at $625,000.


"What I'm gathering from your comments is that both councils want any fundraised dollars to reduce the overall capital cost of the project," added Maier, after some debate from councillors.


Both councils then voted on separate motions to split all fundraised dollars to reduce the overall capital cost of the pool project.


"When building the Multiplex, we fundraised around $2 million dollars," said Roger Morrill. "There is no reason why we won't be able to do that again."
But as Christi Bilsky and others noted, while the pool has been a council priority for years, there hasn't been an earnest push to start fundraising for it.
June 8, 2017 - Victor Kaisar (vkaisar@newcap.ca)


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