Hearts sink after Fredericton rejects offer to keep pool open

The closure of the Sir Max Aitken Pool could mean the end of competitive swimming in Fredericton, say pool advocates, who wonder if the city would treat soccer or hockey players the same way.

Users of the Sir Max Aitken Pool in Fredericton are shocked, frustrated the city won't help keep it open

The Sir Max Aitken Pool will be decommissioned this fall. (Fredericton Diving Club)

The closure of the Sir Max Aitken Pool could mean the end of competitive swimming in Fredericton, say pool advocates, who wonder if the city would treat soccer or hockey players the same way.

"I can't imagine taking away hockey or soccer or tennis or volleyball from another group ... within our municipality's sports and recreation budget," said Mike O'Connor of Fredericton.

O'Connor has two daughters who swim competitively with the Fredericton Aquanauts Swim Team and a son who is just learning to swim.

"They're losing their chosen sport," he said. "The city is saying, 'We are no longer going to support your sport.'"

On Thursday, the city rejected the University of New Brunswick's offer to keep the pool open another year.

The proposal was offered about a month ago and included having the city pay 60 per cent of the costs. Mayor Mike O'Brien said the city decided against paying costs of keeping a pool the city doesn't own. 

This is a failure on their part to negotiate what should've been a fairly decent settlement as an interim solution to get us a new pool.- Gary  Arsenault , Silver Dolphins 

But O'Connor said the closure will have a huge impact on families across the city. It will also affect people like Gary Arsenault, member and spokesperson for the Silver Dolphins, a seniors recreational swim group in Fredericton.

The group ranges from people ages 50 to 85 who use the pool to maintain their health.

"To watch this group walk in with canes, some that are disabled, sight impaired, hearing impaired — to have this facility taken from them — is not right," said Arsenault, who frequently does laps at the pool.

Mike O'Connor said the pool closure will have a huge impact on people across the city. (CBC )

"It's an impact that will be felt through the seniors community."

Advocates of keeping the pool going are shocked and frustrated the deal didn't go through and are still trying to wrap their heads around the future of their swim groups.

When the university made the last-minute attempt to temporarily extend the lifespan of the UNB pool, O'Connor said he originally had tremendous hope.

"When we heard the offer to extend the Sir Max Aitken Pool we were so happy … I jokingly said to my city councillor, 'This isn't just an olive branch, they're handing over the whole tree,'" said O'Connor.

Olympic medallist baffled

Fredericton native Marianne Limpert, one of the few Olympic medallists the province has ever produced, expressed disappointment the city would let the pool close.

"I cannot comprehend how we ever got to this point and where a city like Fredericton could allow it's only competitive pool to close when it had a full decade to prepare and plan for it," Limpert wrote Thursday.

In his announcement O'Brien said the city would try to accommodate people as much as possible at the Fredericton Indoor Pool on the city's north side. But supporters of the UNB pool offer said the other two pools in the city are at capacity.

"Asking senior citizens to go early in the morning or late at night is just not on," said Arsenault.

Gary Arsenault, a spokesperson for the Silver Dolphins in Fredericton, wants the Sir Max Aitken Pool to stay open for at least another year. (CBC)

"It's not a solution to this problem … they have an existing pool at UNB that will offer us an interim solution."

Arsenault said the city needs to step up and come up with a solution that will let people use the Sir Max Aitken Pool in the interim and find a permanent solution after that.

"This is a failure on their part to negotiate what should've been a fairly decent settlement as an interim solution to get us a new pool."

The Six Max Aitken pool is scheduled to close in September 2018.

"This is our lives they're talking about and it needs to be addressed properly," said Arsenault. "I don't think they get it."