Strathcona residents lobby Edmonton council for new pool

Strathcona-area residents hope the city won’t leave them high and dry as one of their oldest facilities nears the end of its life.

Mayor Don Iveson supports funding $3.5 million to design new Rollie Miles rec centre

Scona Pool in Strathcona is used by the school swim team and for community swim lessons but is more than 60 years old. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

Strathcona-area residents hope the city won't leave them high and dry as their local pool nears the end of its life.

Scona Pool in the Strathcona High School at 72nd Avenue and 104th Street is more than 60 years old and is on the city's list to be closed, along with Eastglen and Oliver pools. The city estimates that closing the three facilities would save a total of $1.4 million over the next four years.

Dozens of residents turned out to a public hearing at Edmonton City Hall Monday to urge council to invest in a replacement — Rollie Miles Leisure Centre — in the upcoming 2019-22 budget.

Many belong to "Friends of Scona Rec," a group advocating for a new fitness centre for Strathcona. 

Joel Semeniuk, a pediatrician and father of four, told council it's important he and his children are able to walk or bike to get to the local recreation facility, the way they can with Scona Pool. 

"Encouraging people to live in an area without driving and also to have healthy, active transportation, we need rec centres that are closer to us," he said. 
Council chambers was full Monday as the city reconvened a public hearing into the four-year budget. (CBC)

Iga Speur has been swimming at Scona Pool for 30 years and is part of the push for a replacement. 

"I know almost everybody that uses the pool," she told CBC News in an interview in October. "I've seen generations of kids from the Strathcona High School train here."

She said a replacement is "absolutely needed."

Scona Pool and Rollie Miles Athletic District Park next to Strathcona High School, serve almost 52,000 people in 11 communities, including Allendale, Belgravia, Garneau and Ritchie.

A city report suggests several facilities, including the Kinsmen Sports Centre, Confederation Leisure Centre and Bonnie Doon Leisure Centre, could accommodate these communities.

 
Iga Speur has been using Scona Pool for 30 years but said it needs to be replaced. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

Kim Clegg with the Queen Alexandra community league said asking residents to drive to another recreation centre defeats the purpose of putting in bike lanes and fixing sidewalks.

"A lot of people have moved into these core neighbourhoods because they want that lifestyle and they're encouraged by the city to have a car-free lifestyle," he said. 

"So to have a modest facility to go in to cover 8-12 neighbourhoods seems very reasonable."

The proposed Rollie Miles Leisure Centre would include an eight-lane pool, a single court gymnasium, a fitness area, washrooms and storage to support an outdoor skating rink.

It would cost $75 million to build but the preliminary design is estimated to be $3.5 million.
Kim Clegg with the Queen Alexandra community league is urging council to invest in the Rollie Miles Leisure Centre. (CBC)

It's an amount Mayor Don Iveson is willing to entertain.

Iveson said challenges with the aging facility — including the lack of wheelchair accessibility — means closure is inevitable.

A newer pool will be more economical to run, he added Monday. 

"I think the case is strong to replace it. The question is just what happens in the in-between."

He and Coun. Ben Henderson plan to encourage council to come up with the money for the design of the rec centre during upcoming budget debates.  

Funding opportunities

Clegg argues there's another good reason to support a leisure centre near Whyte Avenue.

Several high rises, including the Mezzo and Southpark, are going up in the next few years, adding more people to the community.

But the community is not necessarily asking for taxpayer money to build it.

Clegg noted that there are alternative ways to fund smaller rec centres, including fundraising campaigns and contributions from new developers.

"There's going to be probably 15 new buildings going in the next 20 years in that area," Clegg said.

"If each of them put in $1.5 million, which is kind of the standard, we're already looking at a third of the rec centre being covered by that."

Another option Iveson mentioned is to make Strathcona a community revitalization levy zone (CRL) — a program supported by the province to help pay for projects. 

Clegg thinks a modest rec centre for Strathcona and surrounding communities is sustainable and makes sense for these communities, differing from the $300 million mega rec centres in some suburbs.

@natashariebe

About the Author

Natasha Riebe

Journalist

Natasha Riebe landed at CBC News in Edmonton after radio, TV and print journalism gigs in Halifax, Seoul, Yellowknife and on Vancouver Island. Please send tips in confidence to natasha.riebe@cbc.ca.