Aquatic Centre GM Believes $50-Million Facility Won’t Close Anytime Soon

Stephen Smith is the general manager of the Canada Games Aquatic Centre in Saint John. Image: Brad Perry.

SAINT JOHN – The head of the Canada Games Aquatic Centre in Saint John says he doesn’t think the facility will close any time soon.

Earlier this week, Saint John’s city manager proposed more than 60 initiatives to help address the city’s structural deficit.

One of the ideas looks at reducing the facility’s funding, selling it or closing it. The proposal could save between $500,000 and $700,000 a year.

Stephen Smith, general manager of the aquatic centre, said the announcement was not a shock because they are well aware of the city’s financial situation.

“We’ve been working to get our deficit lower over the past few months, recognizing that the city’s capacity to fund us at the level they have been historically was probably not going to be there,” said Smith.

The aquatic centre receives core operating funding through the Regional Facilities Commission, which consists of the municipalities of Saint John, Grand Bay-Westfield, Rothesay and Quispamsis. Saint John covers the largest share of the funding.

According to Smith, the facility recorded an overall deficit of $1.15-million in 2018. He said the deficit has fallen to $940,000 this year and they hope to reduce it by another $200,000 in 2020.

Smith said they have already taken several steps to reduce costs, such as closing the pool from 2 to 4 p.m. daily.

“For safety reasons, we need to have four lifeguards on if our pool deck is open,” he said. “There were times that we had nobody in the water but four lifeguards.”

They are also looking at renovations to reduce their water and energy costs, which total around $400,000 a year.

“We’ll have to contain costs a little more than we were planning … but we’re not talking about devastating or significant impacts on our operation,” Smith said.

On the revenue side, Smith said memberships are up 10 per cent year-over-year and they think the trend will continue. They are also improving how they offer swimming lessons to attract more people.

Smith said the loss of aquatic centre and the only 50-metre pool in New Brunswick would not only impact current users but could also make it more and more difficult to attract people to the city.

“This is a $50-million facility,” he said. “If we don’t have that facility here, somebody else is probably going to be pushing to get $50-million to build a pool someplace else in New Brunswick, which means taxpayers money will get used someplace else to build a facility that we already have in Saint John.”

But Smith maintained he believes it is “unlikely” the city would decide to close the aquatic centre in the near future.

“I don’t think closure is imminent,” he said. “I think we’re in a good position to get to where the city needs us to get to and we want to be part of that solution.”

Brad Perry is the news director with CHSJ/Country 94, a Huddle content partner.