New aquatic centre talks reach impasse as Fredericton pursues other options

The talks centered on a potential partnership between the city and the university to maintain the part of the building that houses the Sir Max Aitken Pool until a new centre opens.

University says it needs partner to extend life of Sir Max Aitken Pool, build new facility

Deputy Mayor Kate Rogers announced Tuesday the city will explore other options for a new regional aquatic centre. (CBC)

Lengthy negotiations between the City of Fredericton and the University of New Brunswick to establish a new aquatic centre appear to have come to an impasse, and the city has announced it is now seeking alternatives for a regional pool. 

The announcement Tuesday came after the city rejected a shared funding proposal from the university for a new on-campus aquatic centre.

The talks centred on a potential partnership between the city and the university to maintain the part of the building that houses the Sir Max Aitken Pool until a new centre opens. The Lady Beaverbrook Gymnasium, which contains the pool, is slated for demolition in September.

As of Tuesday, the university was still hopeful a deal could be struck with what UNB's vice-president academic described as a more equitable funding arrangement.

The Sir Max Aitken Pool will be decommissioned in 2018. (Fredericton Diving Club)

George MacLean said the city proposed on Jan. 10 a 60-40 split, with Fredericton handling the majority, to cover the cost of maintaining the existing pool, constructing a new one and future operation and maintenance expenses.

More than 80 per cent of pool users are non-university users, MacLean said, and the university countered in hopes of something closer to an 80-20 split.

"We suggested last week, 'Let's try to find a number that's somewhere between what you're saying and what we're saying and maybe we can work out an arrangement that council and our board of governors would accept,'" MacLean told CBC News.

City looks elsewhere

On Tuesday, Deputy Mayor Kate Rogers announced in a statement city council has directed staff to explore additional options. She said "discussions have not yielded a working arrangement, in principle."

Our mission is not to provide recreational services for the city.- George MacLean, UNB's vice-president academic 

"Any such deal would have to meet the needs of the competitive aquatics community and respect the significant investment being made by the taxpayers of Fredericton in a UNB facility located on their campus," the statement read.

"As a result, Council has directed staff to look into all options for a competitive pool, one that could also include a field house component, if feasible."

Both the city and UNB said they will continue to explore options for a new facility, adding the other side is welcome to be a partner.

The Sir Max Aitken Pool in the Lady Beaverbrook Gymnasium is the only pool in Fredericton capable of hosting competitive aquatic events. (Submitted by the Fredericton Diving Club)

Rogers said city staff will identify new options over the next several weeks and report back to council.

The deputy mayor did not immediately reply to an interview request Tuesday evening.

User group woes

The statement also encouraged UNB to allow user groups to continue using the pool until a solution is found.

The pool is home to many groups, such as diving, competitive swimming and synchronized swimming.

Chris Ramsey, a spokesman for the Fredericton Aquanauts Swim Team, told CBC News in December if the university shutters the pool, there will be no place for the team to train.

MacLean said Tuesday the demolition is still in order.

George MacLean, UNB's vice-president academic, said the university can't cover the costs of the pool without a partner, like the City of Fredericton. (CBC)

"It's regrettable, but it puts those user groups in a really difficult situation. I've been hearing from them directly," he said.

"I feel terrible that these groups potentially won't have access to facilities."

He said the university cannot continue to fund pool operations and maintenance alone. It costs UNB $570,000 annually to operate the Lady Beaverbrook Gymnasium — $350,000 of which is spent on the pool — and staffing costs $275,000.

The pool is not subsidized by the city, he said, adding the city receives a grant in lieu of taxes.

MacLean said the university is in a deficit position and has to consider its primary mission when prioritizing.

"We have limited resources at the university and those resources have to be tied into our academic plans and our academic programs," he said.

"Our mission is not to provide recreational services for the city."