Fredericton group pushes for new aquatics centre to replace doomed UNB pool

A Fredericton group has stepped up its push for a new aquatic centre and for keeping the Sir Max Aitken Pool open in the meantime. 

The push comes after the University of New Brunswick announced a few weeks ago that the Sir Max Aitken Pool and the Lady Beaverbrook Gym on campus would close in the fall of 2018. 

- 'Academic mission needs to be our priority': UNB to close Sir Max Aitken Pool next year 

"Aquatics are a cradle-to-grave type of activity," said Joseph Culp, co-chair of the Capital Region Aquatics Facility Team. "It helps with wellness, water safety, competitive sports."

In an emailed statement a few weeks ago, UNB president Eddy Campbell said that over the past decade, the university has investigated options for constructing an aquatics centre and has pressed its case to the city, the Fredericton YMCA and both the provincial and federal governments.

He said the university was hoping to find a solution to the city's aquatics needs but has been unsuccessful and the pool is now past its useful life."

Culp said the cost of a new aquatics centre would depend on the type of centre built, but research shows a 10-lane, 25-metre pool would cost between $17 million and $20 million. 

An Olympic-size pool would be 50 metres long and 25 metres wide.

Culp said he would argue for a larger pool for Fredericton but did not say how much that would cost. 

"It's far more versatile and we'd get much more for our money," he said. "It's not a small item, we realize that."

He said his group and community members have been working to on funding and a strategic plan for building an aquatics centre, which could take three to five years.

"It's [Sir Max Aitken Pool] an imminent closure," he said. "You have teams already scrambling with what to do with their pool time."

Rallying for support

The group is looking for support from various corporations and all three levels of government as well.

Since the announcement, the group has planned presentations to city councils in New Maryland and Hanwell. On Thursday, the group will meet with city officials in Fredericton at noon.

Culp said, the group talked to Fredericton Mayor Mike O'Brien in October and January about concerns over the life span of the Sir Max Aitken pool and the prospects of a new aquatic centre.

O'Brien has said the city has been clear in the last few years that its priorities are a new performing arts centre and expansion of the Fredericton International Airport.

"They've made it clear what the city's priorities are and we respect that," said Culp.

But he said he's still hopeful the city gives a second look at the aquatic group's priorities as well.

The pool is used from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. by hundreds of athletes, he said, adding people in the city don't recognize how well-used the pool is.

"Imagine if you had half of the ice surfaces in the region closing in September of 2018?," he said. "As parents what would you do?"

He said this is an emotional issue for parents and is affecting athletes of all ages, including, lap swimmers, divers, kayakers, scuba divers, synchronized swimmers and people learning to swim.

Culp said that with a new aquatics centre, people would not have to drive to Woodstock or Saint John for pool access. 

"We have to be optimistic," he said.