By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express
A recently completed study calling for Oshawa to spend approximately $8 million to revitalize Rotary Park will not be considered in this year’s budget.
The city’s community services committee tabled the feasibility study of the aging park located near the corner of Gibb Street and Centre Street at its Jan. 7 meeting.
According to consultants Monteith Brown, who authored the study, the park’s Rotary Pool is reaching the end of its useful life, and requires “substantial reinvestment.”
The staff report calls for $880,000 in the city’s budget to create a detailed design of the revitalization of the park, which includes an updated pool and the construction of a new splash pad and playground facilities.
$636,000 will go towards the design of a new pool and bathhouse while designing the splash pad will cost $93,200 and the playground $150,000.
Based on the concepts provided by staff, capital costs are $5.31 million for the pool and bathhouse and $590,000 for the splash pad area.
The estimated construction cost of the playground is $1.24 million, however, it is noted this does not include potential expenses associated with stormwater improvements to the areas along the Oshawa Creek in the Rotary and nearby Brick-by-Brick Park.
The capital component of the project could be completed in one year or over several years dependant on council direction, according to staff.
However, committee members voted to table the study pending a tour of Rotary Park’s facilities.
Councillors John Gray, Rick Kerr, Bradley Marks and Mayor Dan Carter voted against moving recommendation to budget deliberations, while Councillor Derek Giberson was in favour.
The need to upgrade the park was first recognized in the city’s Parks, Recreation, Library and Culture Facility Needs Assessment, completed in 2015.
The feasibility study was approved in early 2017, and in September of that year, council committed to keeping the pool open.
Public consultation took place throughout July and June of last year.
The public was engaged through initiatives such as Connect Oshawa, a survey and three public open houses.
In all, almost 400 residents provided feedback on the future of the park.
Based upon that feedback the favoured pool design incorporates a “leisure and lane” swimming pool with on deck seating and shade.
Other recommendations for the design include accommodating community needs by including opportunities for those who use the pool for fitness, lessons, and leisure activities.
Staff is also calling for improved safety principles in the design.
As for the splash pad, feedback directs the design to include features allowing for interaction between children of different ages, accessible facilities, surfacing that is “smooth, free of cracks and debris, and slope into appropriate drainage to minimize water pooling on the surface.”
The suggested plan would also include proper signage and convenient seating, shade and washroom access.
Consultation on the playground indicated respondents would like to see accessible facilities, unique equipment and structures, ‘passive cooling’ through the use of shade trees, shade sails or covered seating, and parking.
Staff noted there are concerns regarding safety and accessibility when choosing a final location within Brick-by-Brock or Rotary Park.
Built more than 50 years ago, the pool and bathhouse at Rotary Park have required the city to “address escalating levels of deterioration and incidences of emergency repairs to structures and mechanical systems,” according to the feasibility study.
The most recent condition assessment of the pool found that rehabilitation would be required between 2019 and 2021 at a cost of up to $450,000.
Repairs to the mechanical room could run between $75,000 to $250,000.
Adding on a potential $1.25 million for the replacement for the mechanical system, Monteith Brown estimates the city could face $2 million in spending “with no guarantee that the pool tank can effectively function beyond a five to seven-year period without a complete rebuild.”
Ward 5 city councillor John Gray was of the opinion the city could still get some use of the current pool, while perhaps moving forward on splash pad and playground facilities.
However, both community services commissioner Ron Diskey and director of recreation and culture services Jim Naumovski stressed there are several issues that need to be addressed at the facility.
Naumovski said mechanical elements ranging from a furnace for the pool heater to pipes and valves are in dire need of repair or replacement.
“Over the last three years we’ve put in about $45,000 to mitigate any emergency repairs,” he said.
Diskey added that the pool’s bathhouse is plagued by issues, lacking proper entry for those in wheelchairs and showers and bathrooms which are inaccessible.
“It virtually needs a whole facelift,” he said.
The commissioner pointed out while the issues with the pool are not expected to create safety issues, it is causing service-level issues, and the city has been using a “band-aid process” to address them for a while now.
“There are risks to doing things that way.”
Revenues from the pool have continued to decline in recent years.
The pool generated approximately $13,500 in revenue in both 2015 and 2016, but a lack of rentals resulted in revenue dropping below $9,000 in 2017.
Ahead of the study, city staff researched into the demographics of all households within a four-minute drive of Rotary Park.
According to this data, 15,101 people and 7,705 households are within this area, including 1,200 children under 10 years of age and 1,000 between 10 and 19 years old.
Ward 5 regional councillor Brian Nicholson, who was sitting on the committee meeting, questioned whether Rotary Park serves as many as 15,000 people.
He noted the study suggests that 87 per cent of people who use the pool live within a one or two minute walk of the location.
Rotary pool has a capacity of 264 people, but the study shows it is used by 70 people per day.
Nicholson questioned the affordability of the park, and if fees are stopping people from using it.
Diskey said the city has very “competitive rates” and subsidy programs based on income to increase affordability.
On long weekends and certain dates sponsored by Tim Hortons, admission for the pool is free.
Nicholson said if attendance is increased when there is no admission, the possibility of getting rid of entrance fees should be considered.
“If we are charging and nobody is using it, I think we have the answer to our own question,” Nicholson said.
He also had concerns as to why Rotary Park was the only location for the pool considered in the feasibility study.
Nicholson suggested that a pool closer to Gibb Street would be a better and safer option, as to him, people are “taking their own lives in their hands” when attempting to drop off children on Centre Street.
Overall, Nicholson said the concept of an outdoor pool in the area may not even make sense anymore.
“Why would people go to an outdoor pool when they can go to the Y with an indoor pool with all the bells and whistles,” Nicholson asked.
Diskey said the decision to focus on an outdoor pool at Rotary Park was “underpinned by a previous council decision” and based on consultation from the public.
Furthermore, he noted using the YMCA pool could cause challenges for residents who have to pay for transit and then admission to the indoor pool.
Lastly, Nicholson stated he didn’t see anything “in the [pool] design aimed at the senior population,” which he says is quite significant in the area.
“Are they just supposed to sit on the benches and watch the kids,” Nicholson asked.
Namouvski said a “zero-depth” entry into the proposed pool design would be an attractive feature for seniors and those with accessibility concerns.
As well, he believed the design would be very conducive to seeking aquatic recreation programs.
Diskey noted that with the accessibility issues with the bathhouse, it is pretty obvious why the pool does not attract very many seniors.
The average household income is $57,458 which is considerably lower than the city’s average of $84,871.
Nearly two-thirds of all households are living in rental units or apartment buildings, which may imply a greater reliance on public park land and recreational facilities.
Speaking against staff’s recommendation, Gray said it was “too broad” and that he couldn’t support spending $5 million to upgrade the pool.
“I just don’t think it’s realistic,” he said. “I just think it’s wrong to put out any expectation that we are going to spend $5 on the pool alone.”
Gray added he’d like to see the project “scoped back.”
“It’s just way too expensive in my opinion,” he observed.
However, he did voice his approval of the splash pad and playground elements.
Marks agreed the pool doesn’t “warrant” the estimated cost and that the recommendation was “too broad.”
Giberson said there is a need for a “more expansive outdoor water facility” in the town’s central area.
He noted while there is risk in an investment of this size, the “quality and scope of the experience” is a major attraction for residents of the area.
Nicholson, who did not have a vote at the committee, said Rotary Park is “a neighbour-level park” and is not equipped “to serve the entire city.”
By expanding the pool and attempting to bring in residents from other parks of the city, Nicholson said the neighbourhoods that are closest, and have the greatest need for the facilities, will suffer.
He championed the idea of creating a splash pad area akin to that of Kids Town water park in Scarborough, which is called one of the most elite in the province.
“You could build eight to 10 Kids Towns at the cost of one Rotary Pool,” Nicholson said.
To him, expanding the splash pad facilities is the number one priority, calling the current splash pad at Rotary Park no more than “a box in the ground with some water in it.”
Ward 2 regional councillor Tito Dante-Marimpietri, also sitting in on the meeting, said he was prepared to support a “facility or design” that would serve the needs of the entire community.
However, if Rotary Park is going to be a destination for all city residents, Marimpietri said he had significant concerns regarding parking in the area.
“Not everyone is going to be walking or on a bus,” he said.
Ward 3 regional councillor Bob Chapman said he was not in favour of “spending $8 million on the whole restructuring of this park.”
However, he too supported the idea of better splash pad facilities.
Chapman added with the summer weather seemingly starting earlier and lasting longer, splash pads represent an economical option to offer cooling opportunities to residents.
“When it’s getting hot into October…it can be left on, as opposed to opening a pool more often.”