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Sudbury’s indoor pools are old, outdated and costly to maintain, study concludes

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While not yet wading into the dangerous waters of closing community pools, a report on the state of city-owned pools in Greater Sudbury found they are old, costly and don’t conform to modern standards.

The report, headed to city council Dec. 5, is the first phase of a major review of the city-owned aquatic facilities. While Phase 2 will include recommendations on whether any pools should close, Phase 1 only assesses their current state.

“The primary purpose of the … review is to assess the current state of publicly funded indoor, beaches and splash pads and to create a strategy informed by community engagement to guide the city’s aquatic system for the next 25 years,” the report said.

The city owns five indoor pools, all of which are more than 40 years old, with an average age of 49 years: Gatchell Pool and Nickel District Pool in Sudbury; Howard Armstrong Recreation Centre Pool in Valley East; Onaping Pool; and, R.G. Dow Pool in Copper Cliff.

Sudbury also has seven public beaches and 17 splash pads, many of which were built in the last decade.

“All municipal pools are traditional 25-metre rectangular tanks (except the Onaping Pool, which is much smaller) and most are not fully barrier-free,” the report said.

“Further, three of the city’s five pools are stand-alone facilities that are not part of multi-use recreation centres, limiting their operational benefits and relevance to residents.”

Because of their age, not only are they expensive to maintain, but are also at risk of unplanned closures.

Pool visits in Greater Sudbury over the years. (Info from Greater Sudbury)

The review comes at an important time, since Laurentian University closed its Olympic-sized pool and the Sudbury YMCA, which has a pool built in 2000, has said it is “financially unstable.”

Sudbury’s changing demographics also play a role. The report said the biggest users of indoor pools are children and seniors. From 2021-2051, the number of people living in the city older than age 60 is expected to grow by 34 per cent.

“On this basis, the city can expect to see significantly more demand in the future for services oriented towards seniors compared to other age groups,” the report said.

USAGE HAS DECLINED SINCE 2010

Usage of local pools has been declining since 2010 and took a particularly hard hit during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“While the Howard Armstrong pool experienced a decrease of swim visits by -30 per cent from 2010 to 2022, it continues to be the most visited municipal indoor pool,” the report said.

“The Onaping Pool experienced a decrease of -41 per cent from 2010 to 2022 and remains to be the least utilized pool in the system.”

The cost of capital work needed to keep all five pools open is estimated at $17.7 million over the next 10 years. The cost to do regular maintenance and other work on the pools for the next decade is more than $600,000 per year.

Currently, the city budgets $62,000 for pool maintenance.

The full Phase 1 report can be found here and here. It goes to city council Dec. 5.

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