City pools need to up their game, sport council says

The City of Ottawa is being urged to think beyond aquafit classes and focus instead on hosting high-profile swimming and diving competitions as it decides how it wants to build future recreational facilities.

"Right now most of our facilities within Ottawa, other than a few, are built to a recreational standard," Marcia Morris, executive director of the Ottawa Sport Council, said Thursday.

"We have up-and-coming athletes that end up having to leave Ottawa to train," Morris said, pointing to the example of divers who have moved to Toronto to use a facility built for the 2015 Pan-Am Games.

The shortage of top-end sports facilities also means Ottawa is missing out on major events, Morris said.

"We're also unable, in many cases, to host a major sport tourism event because our facilities are not up to speed."

Kate Porter/CBC

Long-term gain

Coun. Mathieu Fleury, the city's sports commissioner, agreed it makes sense to build facilities not just for local use, but with an eye to hosting future events.

"Sometimes the additional capital costs at the beginning could be worthwhile to maximize the use of that facility," Fleury said. 

The Nepean Sportsplex — the only municipally owned facility with a 50-metre pool — was the gold standard when it was built in the early 1970s, Fleury noted.

But Dan Chenier, the city's general manager of recreation, said it's becoming increasingly difficult for the complex to meet the needs of national and international competitions. The city is hoping to use development charges to pay for a second 50-metre pool.

Morris said the city's aquatics facilities have been allowed to age while other facilities such as sports fields were upgraded for the FIFA Women's World Cup in 2015.

"Right now, we can't even really host a national swimming event in Ottawa," Morris said. "Often those events go over to the Gatineau side because they have the new pool over there."

Guidelines a good step

Coun. Diane Deans said on the whole, coming up with general standards for recreational facilities and community buildings just makes sense.

She pointed to a new field house at Pushman Park in her ward — a building she called the "Taj Mahal of field houses" — as an example of how the city sometimes goes too far.

"It looks really good, but it was embarrassing to me that we spent so much money and so much time on a field house," Deans said. "Having standards and a cookie cutter approach to those kinds of facilities makes sense to me."

City staff are proposing new arenas contain two NHL-size pads, and that pools should be a minimum of 25 metres long and six lanes wide.

City staff will use the guidelines for new pools, rinks, halls, and park washrooms as they come up with an overall strategy for where and when to build recreational facilities. That strategy is due in 2020 or 2021.