New Brunswick

Fredericton, YMCA consider pool partnership after city stops talks with UNB

A week after giving up on talks with the University of New Brunswick to provide the region with a competitive swimming pool, the City of Fredericton is considering a partnership with the YMCA for a similar project.

City wants to work with Y to explore possible designs, locations and costs of new regional aquatic centre

The City of Fredericton is exploring the development of a new aquatic centre with the Fredericton YMCA. (Daniel McHardie/CBC)

The City of Fredericton is considering a partnership with the local YMCA to construct a new competitive pool, field house and multi-purpose centre for the region.

The news comes a week after the city halted negotiations with the University of New Brunswick for a similar project — a move that surprised university officials who had recently softened their bargaining position. 

Last week, Deputy Mayor Kate Rogers said council directed staff to explore other partnerships because the lengthy talks with UNB failed to produce a working agreement.

In a news release Wednesday, the city announced it intended to sign a memorandum of understanding with the YMCA of Fredericton to explore design, location and programming for a new aquatic centre.

Fredericton YMCA will prepare a memorandum of understanding to begin developing the project.

The document will also detail potential capital costs, funding options and operating models, the city said.

No timeline for the process was announced, but "the parties are aware of the urgency of the matter," the release said.

The city's primary aquatic centre and the lone competitive pool in the area — UNB's Sir Max Aitken Pool in the Lady Beaverbrook Gymnasium — is to be demolished in September.

Rogers did not immediately respond to an interview request.

Y strikes when talks break down

Jason Dickson, the Fredericton YMCA's CEO, said Wednesday the organization kept a close eye on the negotiations between the city and UNB. Because of the looming demolition, demand for the Y pool is expected to increase, and Dickson said the Y has already been approached by user groups.

"We felt it was the the right time, and we were ready for it and wanted to step forward and be a group that was interested," Dickson said on why the organization decided to pursue a partnership with the city.

"Our vision is to create a healthy community, so some additional pool space and court time is good not only for our members but for the people of the city of Fredericton."

The existing pool at the Y on the south side could not serve as a replacement for a competitive indoor pool.

Dickson, who was not CEO when the building opened almost seven years ago, couldn't say exactly why a larger competitive pool was not part of the design but thought it wouldn't have made sense to duplicate the offerings at the UNB pool.

As for a new aquatic centre, Dickson said it was too early to field questions about design or costs but a new centre would probably be a standalone structure instead of an add-on to the Y.

UNB talks reached impasse

The university and the city were discussing a solution that included extending the UNB pool's life while a new one was  developed.

A cost-sharing agreement proved to be the major hurdle, with the university wanting the city to pay 80 per cent of the costs.

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

On Jan 10, the city proposed a 60-40 division, with the city paying 60 per cent, to cover the cost of maintaining the existing pool, constructing, operating and maintaining a new one.

A  Jan. 18 letter obtained by CBC News reveals the university asked to create a joint team to develop a cost-sharing model somewhere in the middle that would be palatable to the UNB board of governors and to council.

UNB president Eddy Campbell wrote to Fredericton Mayor Mike O'Brien about the Sir Max Aitken Pool "and the great desire on the part of our aquatic community to keep it open until a new facility is complete and open."

"Provided our small joint team is able to create cost-sharing and governance solutions that both the Council and the Board will find acceptable, we can then begin to work together with our federal and provincial governments as well as others to find the additional financial help we will need in order to proceed."

Deputy Mayor Kate Rogers announced last week that city council had directed staff to explore other partners for a new aquatic centre. (CBC)

On Jan. 23, however, Rogers announced that council wanted staff to explore additional options, including the possibility of a field-house component.

The university has said it cannot continue to fund pool operations and maintenance alone.