While the pool’s mechanical upgrades that have been complete, pending testing, all pools in the province have been closed due to public health regulations associated with COVID-19.
While the province is currently in the beginning of it’s phase one relaunch strategy, pools are only eligible to reopen as part of the third phase of the three-phase relaunch strategy.
In order for the pool to be open, the town would need to fill 12 lifeguard position, which is typically done over a period of two months, although administration says in a best case scenario it can be done within three to four weeks.
However, there is no time frame as to when phase three will go, and no guarantee that when phase three goes, new cases won’t prompt a step back to more restrictive measures.
While it is estimated that phase three will occur in mid-July or August, there has not been evidence that substantial lead time will be provided in advance of moving from phase two to phase three, so it is would be unlikely that the pool will be open on the first day of the phase three relaunch or that it would be open for more than a few weeks before the end of the pool season.
Additionally, it is unclear what accommodations would be required for the facility to operate, and there will likely be increased operating costs, for things such as PPE, along with decreased revenues, because of less people using the pool.
“When you’re trying to look at forecasting what the financial impact will be of opening or not opening, it’s also going to depend on what conditions of opening are attached to an opening,” said Kalen Hastings, CAO for the town. “Is there a capacity limit, because you have to have a certain number of staff, whether you have one customer or 100 customers. And so, having the expenses and the overhead, followed by perhaps, truncated revenue based on conditions is also going to impact your potential projected deficit for whatever period of time that the pool would be open for.”
Operating a pool also typically results in a loss for a municipality, For 2020, the town had budgeted for a net operating loss of around $200,000, a net loss that includes approximately $67,000 in projected revenues. By keeping the pool closed for the season, the town will save approximately $50,000, which could be used of offset COVID-19 relief measures, utilized for mill rate stabilization in future years or go into to a reserve dedicated to supporting construction of an enhanced pool facility. Town administration reported that about 10 municipalities they reached out to have decided not to open outdoor facilities this year, such as Magrath, Blackfalds, and Medicine Hat, and they expect that number to climb. Coun. Briane Simpson requested that the town sends a letter to Taber-Warner MLA Grant Hunter, about the delay of information pertaining to the launch of the first phase of the relaunch strategy, noting that a lot of businesses covered in phase one who were only just opening because they got the information about it so late.
“This is an important thing that we’re discussing, because there’s no information, and it’s not given until the very, very last second, and I would like the Albertan government to know that that’s a struggle for the businesses that are trying to open, and also for us trying to run a community,” said Simpson. Coun. Roger Hohm said he would like to see administration start advertising for lifeguards, with the stipulation that they would only be hired if the pool opens.
“I know last week, when (on) Friday (May 22) afternoon, when we finally got an announcement that playgrounds could be open, the neighbourhood kids in my neighbourhood that flocked over to Jennie Emery School and others, with a big smile on their face was pretty important to a lot of the parents in our neighbourhood,” said Hohm. “I think opening a pool would also be really important to parents and the community as a whole. So I personally would like to see us be prepared to open as soon as we possibly can when the announcement is made.”
Hohm also noted that they had already budgeted a loss on the pool. Coun. Doreen Lloyd asked if they could defer the decision to their June 8 meeting, noting things are changing daily and there may be new information at that meeting. Cam Mills, manager of economic and community development, said he was “honestly not sure” if they would have new information at that point, although from an operational perspective, there were some things they could look into.
“I think the real key is the question of, you know, how much advance notice we’re going to have from the province and when are things going to come,” said Mills. “That would be the difficult issue for us, and like I say, we have absolutely no control (over that), unfortunately.” Coun. Bill Chapman said they would need to have “the science behind us to understand” what it will take to open the community pool to Alberta Health Service’s standards during a pandemic, as people will “literally share the same water”. Hastings said that they did not know what under what circumstance they can open the pool under, and another issue was that their lifeguards do not monitor dressing rooms, beyond checking to ensure supplies are stocked up.
“This is an opportunity for people to gather, so logistically, there may be kind of a, if the desire is to open, then there may be some adaptations to how we provide this service, just full disclosure, where there could be a supply and demand issue, and we won’t know to full extent there will be until we get a little bit further guidance,” said Hastings. “If you want to save the day for a month, it is possible, but it could be under very different circumstances than we’ve been accustomed to in previous years.”
Another issue concerned long-term plan development for a new pool facility in Coaldale. During council’s Dec. 9, 2019 meeting, they passed motions directing administration to repair the existing pool to provide a short term solution that would allow for residents to continue to have access to a local swimming facility until a decision could be made on what, if any, additional pool infrastructure would be constructed in town, and to engage with the community in order to determine the best option for a new or expanded facility prior to December 2020.
The town has already engaged in public consultation concerning the community pool in Coaldale last year, and while the consultation process was well received it did not result in a clear consensus from the community in terms of the best available path for providing swimming facilities in Coaldale. Consultation was due to resume in June 2020, however, the pandemic interferes with the town staff ‘s ability to safely do that, and because of the pandemic, people’s priorities may have changed, and the information that has been collected may not be as valid as it once was. Administration recommended that council postponing plans for further planning for pool facility construction for an additional year due to financial uncertainty resulting from the pandemic and the difficulty providing level of consultation needed for that project. Coun. passed a motion in a split 6-2 vote to defer the pool opening question to their June 8 meeting, with Hohm and Coun. Henry ‘Butch’Pauls voting against.
Council unanimously passed motions to direct administration to postpone the planned public engagement proposed at the Dec. 9, 2019 regular meeting of council associated with developing a long term plan for new facility construction and instead prepare to engage the public and prepare a plan for presentation to council in December 2021, and to send a letter to MLA Hunter asking for more clarified information to be given at an appropriate time for matters of relaunch.