Yellowknifers could decide by November whether the city can borrow $10M for aquatic centre

The City of Yellowknife needs voter approval to borrow a portion of what it will cost to build a new aquatic centre to replace its aging pool and meet demand for aquatic programming in 2024.

Referendum would be held by mail, with backup options for in-person ballots

A concept design for the proposed aquatic centre in Yellowknife. (City of Yellowknife)

Yellowknife city councillors will decide this month whether to seek residents' approval to borrow $10-million to proceed with a new $67-million aquatic centre.

The referendum could go ahead if the bylaw passes its first reading on Oct. 18, and the vote would be held by mail until Nov. 23.

City manager Sheila Bassi-Kellett said an aquatic centre build is long overdue and the Ruth Inch Memorial Pool doesn't meet the existing demand from residents. 

This year, 1,400 people were enrolled in programming but 1,100 were wait listed, a city memo states. 

In a governance meeting Tuesday, Bassi-Kellett said the city is making calculated decisions on spending.

"We don't want to spend like drunken sailors," she said, adding that the pool would be supported by a fund for small communities from the Building Canada Fund, some territorial formula funding, federal gas tax and the city capital fund. 

The city has been putting a portion of city rental fees into a fund, anticipating the aquatic centre build.

"We have not taken this in isolation," she said. 

The city needs to award the contract in early 2022 to avoid a jump in costs — the contractors have agreed to hold their costs for 150 days.

"February 6 is the magic date," said Bassi-Kellett.

The city plans to have detailed designs by 2022, major construction in 2023, and a functional facility by July 2024. 

Some funding for the facility is time sensitive, such as a contribution from the Building Canada Fund, which offers $12,900,000 with a minimum contribution of $4,300,000.

It must be spent by 2024 or the city forfeits the funding.

Address shelter concerns

Coun. Julian Morse, who voted in favour of a temporary day shelter on Franklin, said some residents have voiced concerns about the aquatic centre's price tag in light of shelter services, which a narrow majority of councillors voted against. 

Morse said those concerns are worth addressing, and the city should make it clear that the aquatic centre and housing are not competing priorities. The territorial government is also working on a new (and permanent) day and sobering centre in downtown Yellowknife. 

"One piece of municipal infrastructure … may seem less urgent than things like housing," he said.

"Housing is very much on my mind … and it's not something that is going to be set aside because we're building one recreational facility."

Morse said recreation facilities like the pool are one way to redistribute wealth, by taking property taxes and putting it into something that people can access regardless of their financial standing. 

Plus, all children deserve to learn how to swim, he said.

Coun. Shauna Morgan also voiced her support for moving ahead to a referendum.

"I think this community deserves to have a wonderful facility like this that's open to everyone," said Morgan.

"I am hopeful that we get support from voters."