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Editorial: Community could help save the UVic pool

The pool is scheduled to close by Sept. 15 this year, a few months short of its 50th birthday.
The McKinnon swimming pool at the University of Victoria. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

The swimming pool in the Archie McKinnon Building at the University of Victoria opened on Jan. 6, 1975, a few weeks ahead of the building’s official opening.

The pool is scheduled to close by Sept. 15 this year, a few months short of its 50th birthday.

It is hard to imagine the university without a pool — especially this one, where nine Olympians and Paralympians trained. The McKinnon pool was crucial to the development of Ryan Cochrane and Stephanie Dixon, two of sa国际传媒’s most decorated swimmers.

When the building opened, the Victoria Times said the L-shaped pool was its showpiece. Now, the university says the pool deck and mechanical operations are old, and the best estimate is that upgrades would cost more than $1.5 million.

That’s not a lot of money, but apparently it is enough to pull the plug on the pool, even though the community could easily provide that money to the university.

It’s a shame that the university waited until the first week in July to announce the closure. The summer is a slow time at the university and throughout Greater Victoria. Perhaps the pool could be saved — but the timing of the announcement will work against any community effort to do so.

It’s a shame that the university has no public plans to replace the pool, and no plans for the space after the water is drained from the pool.

And it’s a shame that the people who have been using the pool for years are being left high and dry. The pool is primarily used by varsity teams, the Pacific Coast Swimming club and some student and alumni clubs. Any member of the public is welcome at certain times every day.

Officially, the Vikes varsity swim program and Pacific Coast Swimming Club will move to municipal pools, and UVic will help student aquatic clubs find other pools.

But here’s a reality check.

Many members of the varsity swim team live on campus or in the immediate area. They don’t have vehicles, but that has not been a problem, because they can walk or cycle to the McKinnon Building.

If they are expected to train at Saanich Commonwealth Place, how do they get there? Training starts at 5 a.m., and buses don’t run that early. The athletes who can get to Commonwealth will need to factor in 40 minutes of travel every training day.

The Pacific Coast Swimming Club has helped thousands of people learn to swim. Every week, 500 young swimmers from throughout Greater Victoria are enrolled in club activities. If the pool closes, where do they go?

The club uses the McKinnon pool for about 40 hours a week. It will be difficult, if not impossible, to move the club’s programs to other pools in the region.

The club has also provided on-campus employment for dozens of swim instructors and lifeguards. They will face the same challenges with transportation that the swim team will face.

Do swimming lessons matter? Just two weeks ago, the sa国际传媒 Coroners Service issued a reminder of the need to be careful around water. In 2023, 101 people died by accidental drowning.

The closure of the UVic pool comes as the future of the Crystal Pool in Victoria is in question. Voters will be asked in a referendum in early 2025 to choose between two options for a new building that would include a pool as well as many other amenities.

If voters favour a new pool on the site of the existing pool, we won’t have a Crystal Pool for at least five years. Then where does the swimming community go?

Replacing the Crystal Pool will cost more than $200 million, with the city borrowing at least $160 million no matter which option the voters choose.

That price tag makes the $1.5 million cost of the McKinnon upgrades seem like a fantastic bargain. If the upgrades would give the pool another six years of life, the McKinnon pool could remain in use until the new Crystal Pool is open.

Could the McKinnon pool remain open if the community raised that $1.5 million? Given the number of people who use the pool, that amount could be raised by the end of the summer. We’ve asked UVic, but haven’t heard back.

The fundraising effort would help to build bridges between the university and the rest of Greater Victoria. Beyond that, it would give a hint about what might happen to the Crystal Pool vote.

If we can’t come up with $1.5 million to save an existing pool, after all, what are the chances of agreeing to spend 100 times that amount to build a new one?

While $1.5 million is a lot of money, it is a drop in the bucket compared to the money Victoria hopes to spend. If the university does not have the money, it should ask the community for help.

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