Councillor’s dream of pool in Napanee is sunk by vote

Children and youth enjoying the aquatics facilities at the Boys and Girls Club of Kingston’s West End Hub. The Napanee Aquatics Committee has been working on bringing a similar facility to their town, but with little Council support. Submitted photo.

Napanee Councillor Dave Pinnell continued his long-fought battle for an indoor pool in Napanee this week, but Town Council sank his hopes – again.

On Monday, Apr. 15, 2024, Pinnell, on behalf of the Town’s Aquatics Committee, presented yet another formal request to Council for $15,000 to update a pool feasibility study, to be funded through general reserves.

Accompanying the request was a report prepared by Treasurer Ellen Hamel, which noted the substantial amount of work and discussion over the years around the need for and viability of an aquatics facility. In 2021, the last Council received a report from Community and Corporate Services Staff that referenced an expense of $75,000 for a professional design for a pool facility at the Strathcona Paper Centre. However, there was no allocation for it specifically in the 2022 budget, and the work was never carried out. 

Most recently, during the 2024 budget deliberations, Council passed resolution #28/24, directing that no amount be provisionally included in the draft operating budget to procure conceptual drawings for the pool facility. 

The report states that allocating additional funds outside the 2024 budget would put “additional strain” on finances, noting that “the Town is faced with competing priorities and significant constraints on the long-term affordability of building, operating, and maintaining a committee pool.” If Council were to approve the committee’s request, these funds would need to be transferred from reserves, or savings elsewhere in the current year budget would need to be found to offset this unbudgeted expense, noted the treasurer. 

Pinnell pointed back to the mandate of the Aquatics Committee, as set by Council in 2023. At that time the mayor, on behalf of Council, assigned the committee the task — “as an immediate priority” — of “undertak[ing] a feasibility assessment of an indoor pool or a new multi-use community recreation facility with an indoor pool (building on the findings of the 2018 indoor pool feasibility study).” And further, “If feasible, planning for implementation and opening of the complex by the summer 2028.”

The mandate letter notes that as per the Recreation Master Plan, “strong support exists for an indoor pool or a multi-use facility with an indoor pool. The municipality currently does not own or operate a gymnasium. Developing a new multi-use facility could help address both the aquatics and a highly flexible, programmable, and year-round facility to serve all residents, including target groups of youth and seniors.”

Pinnell stated that the committee had undertaken to complete its mandate, but “there was a cost of $15,000 plus tax.” He shared that there is a great fear that without movement on the aquatics file, there will be “a lot” of resignations from the committee and that could cause “a huge stoppage in going forward with an indoor multi-use facility.”

He again pointed out that 92 per cent of the town’s polling respondents cited a need for an indoor pool, and that the Town is growing at an unprecedented rate.

“We need to go with the times,” said Pinnell. “We’re so far behind on this… We just can’t keep putting it off.”

He also pointed to the surrounding municipalities, including Belleville, Amherstview, and Kingston, which have pools currently working beyond their capacity and leaving many area families unable to take swimming lessons.

Mayor Terry Richardson shared his thoughts that perhaps this priority should be shifted to 2025, saying, “When we know where we sit with respect to our infrastructure investment called the wastewater treatment plant…”

“I know it isn’t popular,” he added, “and it sounds like we’re prioritizing a wastewater treatment plant over an aquatics facility, which I do believe are our community wants and needs… I’m wondering if it wouldn’t be prudent for us to prioritize at this point. At least until we know where we sit with the plant.”

Pinnell rebutted, “As much as I respect your comments… the difference that I see between the two projects is that we already have the shovel in the ground for the wastewater plant, and that’s going forward. With the Aquatics Committee, we have nothing; we don’t have drawings… We are so far out on this project that if we keep putting it off… it’s just never is going to get done… The wastewater pollution plant will be over before we even put a shovel in the ground [for an aquatics facility].”

Pinnell also indicated how painful and even “embarrassing” it has been to attempt to apply for grant money from other levels of government, charitable donors, or other partners with an outdated feasibility study and no conceptual drawings.

Councillor Bob Norrie responded in support.

“Yes. I know money’s tight, but I have to agree with Councillor Pinnell that his poor committee’s been around for 12 years and been kicked to the side so much. I think for $15,000 plus tax, we should see what it will cost,” he said, pointing out that the last study was done before the COVID-19 pandemic, which has changed so much in terms of construction.

“I think $15,00 is a good investment to determine where we stand. So I will be supporting Councillor Pinnell.”

The serpentine discussion by the other councillors that followed was summarized by one sentence in a lengthy argument by Councillor Mike Shenck: “I would love enough to go ahead and have a pool, but that’s a luxury.”

A clearly frustrated Norrie ended up attempting to rein the discussion back in by pointing out that the whole payment for a pool and its accompanying infrastructure could not be debated without a feasibility study.

“We can go around for hours doing this, and do ‘what ifs’ and ‘buts’… but I support the $15,000. I think we can find that, to find out if it’s even feasible, and the public might say, ‘No F-ing way,’ and that’s it,” he said.

In response to a question posed by Deputy Mayor Brian Calver, Pinnell pointed out again, “The last Council awarded the Aquatics Committee $75,000 for drawings. This Council denied that.”

“There was a comment that this is a luxury item,” Pinnell went on, disheartened. “It’s not a luxury item. It is a quality of life item. It’s the quality of life for our residents. Whatever we do today is only going to shorten up what we do in the future because, guys, this Council is not going to see a shovel on the ground for this. There’s so much work to be done on this.”

“Councillor Schenk asked how much the pool is going to cost,” Pinnell continued pointedly. “I don’t know: that’s why I’m asking for $15,000, so we can find out what it’s gonna cost.”

When the question was finally called, Pinnell requested a recorded vote. But before that could happen, Schenk, clearly struck by and acknowledging Pinnell’s comments on quality of life, launched into another prolonged discourse on his own reasoning for not supporting the feasibility study. This was followed by another round of reasonings and questions about the full pool cost from the rest of Council.

Eventually, the vote was allowed to proceed. Predictably, only Pinnell and Norrie supported the motion to earmark $15,000 to update a pool feasibility study to be funded through general reserves.

A discussion about the future mandate of the Aquatics committee followed, during which Pinnell reminded Council, “Aquatics is for everybody, not just for kids… [but] with the amount of open water that we do have in our County, which is phenomenal, every kid does need to learn how to swim… Everybody needs to be able to swim.”

The Lifesaving Society, an over 125-year-old charitable organization working to prevent drowning and water-related injury in Canada, would agree; Drowning is the second leading cause of preventable death in Canada for children under the age of 10, and according to the group’s mandate, “Basic swimming ability is a fundamental requirement in any meaningful attempt to eliminate drowning in Canada and teaching young children basic survival swimming skills can have a life-long immunization effect against drowning.”

The Lifesaving Society strongly encourages parents to enrol their children in swimming lessons, but the people of Napanee will need to look elsewhere for such lessons for the foreseeable future.

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