More than six months after it shut its doors, and lanes, to swimmers of all ages, the Aquarena will reopen next month — after getting over half a million dollars from government coffers and Memorial University.
Specifically, there is $400,000 from the provincial COVID-19 contingency fund, while Memorial University's share is $200,000.
The money, which will help the pool operate under reduced capacity due to COVID-19 restrictions, was announced Tuesday afternoon at an event on the deck of the St. John's pool facility, and comes after weeks of criticism and calls for the pool to reopen.
"This is a provincial institution, with respect to sports and athleticism, and I thought it was appropriate that we work with our partners, you know, Memorial University, on this, to ensure that we can open it," said Premier Andrew Furey..
Swimming lessons, training and recreational swims are expected to restart in mid-October.
Ongoing closure raised as 'growing concern'
Furey said the closure had been brought to his attention as a "growing concern."
The Aquarena, along with other pools in the province, closed in March as cases of COVID-19 started to rise.
But municipal pools reopened their doors in late June. Other provincial pools, including ones in Gander and Corner Brook, opened more than six weeks ago.
In early September, a social media campaign ramped up, with parents of competitive swimmers, Swim NL and others, calling for the Aquarena to reopen.
The pool closure was especially problematic for competitive swimmers, including Jaxson Row, 13, a member of the St. John's Legends swim team, who spoke to CBC News.
In order to qualify for any national meets, including Olympic trials, athletes need to swim in a regulated Swim Canada 50-metre pool — and the Aquarena is the only one in the province.
Row's mother said they were considering moving to another province in order to access a long-course pool.
At the time, Craig Neil, general manager of the Works, said the "significant costs" to operate the pool with reduced capacity, due to COVID-19 related limits on how many people can be in place, made it challenging.
"The health and safety of our employees and customers is our No. 1 priority. Given the guidance on gatherings outlined in public health documents, the Works will not reopen the Aquarena pool in the short term," reads a statement posted on the website on Sept. 1.
Furey said Tuesday he wasn't aware of what those health and safety concerns were.
"The specifics, I'd have to deflect to them, exactly what the specifics were, but in conversations at a high level, they assured me they had been rectified, and that it was largely a financial barrier that was left," Furey said.
"It's actually nice today to be in here, with actual lights on.… It's been a long time coming," said Bill Thistle, chair of the Memorial University Recreation Complex, at the event.
Some swimmers could not agree with him more.
"It's really exciting. I definitely missed it.… For opportunities in the future, you definitely need this pool to train," said Emily Noseworthy, 15, a member of the St. John's Legends swim team.
Nathan Wilson, 11, said he has missed it, too. He said they have been training in MUN's pool, which isn't the standard 25 metres that most pools are — it's 25 yards.
"And you're doing a lot of flip turns…. It will be really fun to get back in [to the Aquarena pool]," he told CBC News at the event.