Saint John councillor slams 'ridiculous' $650,000 splash pad

Saint John city council has voted to apply for federal funding for a long-awaited west side splash pad, but some some city councillors see the ballooning cost of the project as "ridiculous."

It's a nice idea, but Saint John can't afford it, says Coun. David Merrithew

The community has raised $100,000 to help pay for a splash pad near Carleton Community Centre on Saint John's lower west side. But with costs $100,000 in excess of original estimates, some councillors voted against a motion to seek more money from ACOA. (Julia Wright / CBC)

Saint John city council has voted to ask for federal funding for a long-awaited west side splash pad, although some councillors believe the ballooning cost of the project is "ridiculous."

"Is it a nice thing to do?" asked Coun. David Merrithew. "Absolutely.

"Is it what we should be doing with the very limited about of money that we have? Absolutely not."

Various community groups and the local business community have raised $100,000 to help pay for the splash pad for the lower west side,  one of the city's priority neighbourhoods.

Supporters call the water park the missing piece of a recreational area near the Carleton Community Centre that includes a playground, skateboard park and outdoor fitness equipment.

The City of Saint John has pledged an additional $250,000 and the province $200,000 to the water project.

But it turns out the price tag exceeds the original forecast: $650,000 in total, or $100,000 more than estimated.

'It's going to cost us a fortune'

At their meeting Tuesday, councillors agreed to file an application to try to secure $100,000 from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, an idea that seemed crazy to Merrithew.

When the city committed $250,000 to the project, "we were told that they had the rest of the money secured," he said.

Plans for constructing the splash pad have been in the works since 2013. (John Van Dusen/CBC)

Further, he said, it will cost $1,085 a day to operate the splash pad.

"That's ridiculous," he said.

Coun. Sean Casey agreed.

"If it does go through, I hope you enjoy it," he said. "Because it's going to cost us a fortune."

Merrithew suggested a more cost-effective alternative would be to provide children with free passes to the Aquatic Centre and bus passes.

He used an analogy to describe the decision to use ACOA funding on a splash pad given the city's dire financial straits.

"We are all living in a house [where] the the windows leak, the roof is coming off it, and the car in the front yard doesn't work, and we're going to put a pool in the backyard," Merrithew said. "It doesn't make economic sense."

The city's other outdoor splash pads offer water gun stations, fountains, sprinkler and mist-spraying systems and are open for play from the time schools close in June until they reopen in September.

A draw for community

Coun. John Mackenzie supported the motion to seek federal money.

"It's things like recreational facilities and amenities in a community that draw people," MacKenzie said. "I'll be supporting this. I hope the kids enjoy themselves thoroughly on it. I know it's well-deserved with all the hard work you've put into it."

Coun. Blake Armstrong agreed.

The lower west side, home to the Carleton Community Centre and the proposed spash pad, has been declared a priority neighborhood for Saint John's attention. (Julia Wright / CBC)

"How do you put a dollar value on community?" Armstrong asked. "I don't think you can. It's tight times, but you can't put a dollar value on that."

Council ultimately voted to approve the application to ACOA for the additional funds. City staff expect that, given Saint John's weather,  the pad will be used about 60 days each year.

With files from Connell Smith