New Brunswick

UNB pool will stay afloat 3 more years after board accepts funding from city, province

The Sir Max Aitken Pool will stay afloat for at least another three years after the University of New Brunswick's board of governors voted Tuesday to accept a funding agreement with the City of Fredericton and the provincial government.

Sir Max Aitken Pool and gym will both remain open, university official confirms

About 200 pool supporters filled Fredericton City Hall on Monday night to hear whether council would keep the Sir Max Aitken Pool open. (Gary Moore/CBC)

The Sir Max Aitken Pool will stay afloat for at least another three years after the University of New Brunswick's board of governors voted Tuesday to accept a funding agreement with the City of Fredericton and the provincial government.

The university's gym will also remain open for three years, ensuring St. Thomas University teams will still have a place to play, confirmed UNB's vice-president of academic George MacLean.

The UNB pool was scheduled to close in September following months of failed negotiations between the city and the university.

But as pressure to find a solution started to increase from the aquatics and medical communities, the province stepped up and offered $260,000 a year to bridge the two sides.

On Monday night, city council passed a motion in front of a packed gallery to enter a funding agreement with the University of New Brunswick and the province — at an annual cost of $140,000 for the city.

The final decision rested with UNB's board of governors.

Council also instructed staff to identify partnerships, locations and design options for a new community aquatics facility — a welcome surprise for Chris Ramsey, a spokesperson for pool users.

"There's a longer-term view in this resolution than just … let's vote to keep the Sir Max Aitken Pool open," he said.

Ramsey was one of nearly 200 pool supporters who flooded the City Hall gallery Monday night to hear council's decision on the funding deal. The crowd erupted with applause as council voted unanimously.

"This is significant, this is really, really big tonight," said Ramsey, couldn't wipe the grin off his face as he left the gallery. "Big win for everybody."

"We're blessed to have had the province step in and facilitate this and help make this happen."

Chris Ramsey, a spokesperson for users of the pool, was pleased with council's unanimous vote to keep the pool. (Gary Moore/CBC)

The city and UNB had both committed to putting some funds on the table to keep the pool open in the short term until a longer-term solution could be found, but there was a gap in that funding.

Bill Fraser, the minister responsible for the Regional Development Corporation, said the province never received a funding request from the city or UNB about "this very important piece of infrastructure."

He approached the city and the government approached UNB after Fredericton North MLA Stephen Horsman and Liberal candidates in the September provincial election flagged it as an issue.

"When they were going door-to-door, one of the top priorities they heard from the citizens of Fredericton was the UNB pool," said Fraser.

So when Fraser sat down with Fredericton Mayor Mike O'Brien last week, he "made it very clear" the province wanted to see the pool remain open and wanted to be a financial partner.

"I'm very pleased that the mayor and council took us up on our offer," he said, describing it as a "win-win."

'Good value for taxpayers'

The mayor said the city stayed firm on its stance over the last few months, and making a multi-year deal was important.

"We got a good value for the taxpayers of Fredericton," O'Brien said.

"I think everyone's motivated to get this done."

The minister said he was "a little bit surprised" he hadn't been approached by the city or UNB.

"There seemed to be some confusion over whether the city could have more than one priority," said Fraser.

The city had indicated its top priority is a performing arts centre, but before the province can commit to that, it needs a full proposal on the table and for all other funding partners to be on board, he said.

The province will work collaboratively with all stakeholders on a longer-term solution for the pool, said Fraser.

Other partners could include neighbouring municipalities, the private sector and the federal government, he said.

"This three-year solution buys us the time to get that done."

With files from Information Morning Fredericton

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