New Brunswick

UNB pool may get provincial lifeline, Bill Fraser says

The provincial government is willing to help keep the Sir Max Aitken Pool from closing in September, Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Bill Fraser confirmed Thursday.

Province would need a formal request from Fredericton and UNB to begin

UNB president Eddy Campbell has said the Sir Max Aitken Pool will be decommissioned this fall. (Fredericton Diving Club)

The provincial government is willing to help keep the Sir Max Aitken Pool from closing in September, Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Bill Fraser confirmed Thursday.

"There's a lot of interest in the city of Fredericton from various different groups and users of that facility and there seems to be a tremendous need," he said in an interview.

But Fraser said there would be no blank cheque, and the city and the University of New Brunswick would have to file a formal request with a viable plan for extending the life of the pool before the province stepped in.

Then the process could move forward quickly, Fraser said.

The university announced more than a year ago that the Sir Max Aitken Pool and the Lady Beaverbrook Gym would close in this fall.

The decision provoked and outcry from the aquatics community and efforts to keep the pool open at least another year until a solution is found to the city's lack of competitive pools.

City hints at interest

The university later proposed the city pay 60 per cent of the costs of extending the pool's life by a year, but the city rejected the idea, saying it wouldn't take on the costs of something it didn't own.

The city hasn't said what would be necessary for it to resume negotiations with the university, but a statement from Mayor Mike O'Brien appears to leave the door open.

"I will be reaching out to the minister as soon as possible to discuss the idea further," O'Brien said. 

More than 80 per cent of pool users are not from UNB.

Pool never mentioned by city

Fraser said the government has never heard from the city about the pool.

"Our Premier met with the mayor and council approximately a month ago … and that issue was never brought up by the municipality as a priority," said Fraser. 

In a statement to CBC News,  UNB vice-president academic George MacLean said the university requested a meeting of the three parties as recently as April 13 and is interested in discussing the pool further.

"We're pleased that the province and representatives from the aquatics community were willing to meet and that the province is open to offering financial support," said MacLean. 

"We do hope that, by working together with all partners, we can find a solution."
Chris Ramsey, president of the Capital Region Aquatic Facility Team, is hopeful the government's offer will lead to the pool staying open. (CBC)

Confirmation that the provincial government would be willing to pitch in to keep the aging pool open has Fredericton's swimming community hopeful once again. 

Chris Ramsey, president of the Capital Region Aquatic Facility Team, said he's hopeful this leads to renewed negotiations between the city on the University of New Brunswick.

"I think it really is a serious offer," Ramsey told Information Morning Fredericton.

"Look, there's an election coming up in the fall. I don't think the province would step into this unless they were serious about actually solving it."

Community not heard

The city has said their ability to help fund the pool is limited by other commitments, including building a new performing arts centre.

Ramsey said the performing arts centre is important, but he feels the needs of the swimming community are being ignored.

"We have three pools in this town," said Ramsey. "Those are three pools that have been at capacity for 10 years based on a report that the city did back in 2009 or 2010."

Ramsey said the city and the university abandon the pool at their peril adding it wouldn't be a good look for either party.

Ramsey said that if the government was willing to help out, the city and the university would be "crazy" not to go back to the negotiating table.

"If this pool goes away in September, the city of Fredericton becomes the only capital city in all of Canada without competitive aquatics infrastructure for it's youth sports programs," said Ramsey.

With files from Information Morning Fredericton and Shaun Waters

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