Edmonton councillors want to explore pricey options for deeper pool

City councillors are determined to explore all options before pulling the plug on the knee-deep wading pool in front of city hall, even though Mayor Don Iveson thinks the additional money could be better used elsewhere.

Mayor Don Iveson says that could be pouring money down the drain

The 25-year-old pool needs to be upgraded by Nov. 30, 2019, to meet new provincial safety standards. (John Robertson/CBC)

City councillors are determined to explore all options before pulling the plug on the knee-deep wading pool in front of city hall, even though Mayor Don Iveson thinks the additional money could be better used elsewhere.

At an executive committee meeting on Monday, councillors agreed to look at hiring 24-hour security to monitor the pool, one of two measures that would allow the city to maintain the water level at its current depth of 40 centimetres.

The other option is to put up a fence around the pool's perimeter.

"This is not just any pool," Coun. Mike Nickel said. "This is an iconic piece of the city."

The 25-year-old pool needs to be brought up to new standards by Nov. 30, 2019, along with all other private and public pools in the province.

I don't think we'll see less users.- Mayor Don Iveson

The flow rate of the current design — which puts a swimmer at risk of being trapped — is 10 times higher than what is now acceptable under provincial law. Thus, a measure like a fence or round-the-clock security guard is necessary to ensure public safety.

The original solution to the problem, proposed by city staff last year, was simply to substantially decrease the water depth to 15 centimetres, making it an ankle-deep pool.

Public protest prompted councillors to ask city staff for options to keep the water where it is.

"We've had people calling in, leaving messages, contacting us on social media, saying, 'We love the pool,' " Coun. Aaron Paquette said.

"It's a practical and useful place to gather and cool off in the summer."

The two alternative proposals are estimated to cost about $400,000 more than the original design to lower the water level. Hiring security to monitor the pool in lieu of putting up a fence would cost an estimated $120,000 per year.  

The extra expense has some members of council unwilling to take the plunge.

Iveson and councillors Ben Henderson and Tim Cartmell are in favour of the lower water depth.

The mayor said he'd rather take the money and put it toward making the city's outdoor pools free to use.

"If there were a cheaper and easy way to do it … then I'd be open to it," he said.

And as for a shallower city hall wading pool, Iveson noted: "I don't think we'll see less users."

Costs are adding up

Cartmell said the mayor makes a good point.

"I just cannot imagine the circumstance where your average eight-year-old says, 'It was a great day, Mom, but if only the water had been a little deeper.'

"I just don't see that happening," he said.

The extra costs wouldn't stop there.

Coun. Sarah Hamilton pointed out that the city paid to relocate summer festivals this year while construction is done on the entire civic plaza.

The process of choosing an alternative design could also prolong that construction by several months, perhaps even pushing it into 2019 when the pool is slated to re-open.

City councillors Mike Nickel, Aaron Paquette, Tim Cartmell and Jon Dziaduk debate the merits of keeping the civic pool at knee-height. (CBC)

"If we defer this four to six months," Hamilton said, "we don't just have the additional cost of 24-hour lifeguard/security guard but we also might have to absorb an additional year of festival cost." 

The committee agreed to revisit the 24-hour security surveillance option at the next council meeting on Feb. 13.

Nickel also wants to explore further camera surveillance options, seeing as the city already has security inside the nearby building.

@natashariebe