Vernon councillors baffled by Coldstream decision to drop out of proposed $121M aquatic centre | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Vernon councillors baffled by Coldstream decision to drop out of proposed $121M aquatic centre

A rendering of the proposed centre.
Image Credit: City of Vernon

The decision by the District of Coldstream and two regional district areas to drop out of the proposed Active Living Centre project is being met with disappointment by some Vernon councillors who also question why the politicians won't let their constituents decide for themselves.

"I'm disappointed by their decision, and more importantly I'm disappointed that they wouldn't give an opportunity for their residents to have a say at a referendum," Vernon councillor Kari Gares said.

Vernon councillor Scott Anderson had much the same reaction.

"I'm a little shocked that they are not giving their own citizens the chance to decide on an Active Living Centre," Coun. Anderson said. "An Active Living Centre has perpetually come up as the number one priority of most of the people of Coldstream and in Vernon in our research."

READ MORE: Coldstream, regional district pull out of Vernon's proposed Active Living Centre

On Wednesday, April 6, the District of Coldstream along with regional district Electoral Areas B and C put out a statement saying they didn't want to participate in the proposed Active Living Centre project.

The statement said they weren't opposed to the facility in "principle" and understood the "legitimate" community need but they didn't have the "confidence" to move forward with the proposal.

Coun. Gares said it was "mind-blogging" that Coldstream and the regional district areas would acknowledge that a new pool is needed, yet, not give their residents an opportunity to have a say at a referendum.

Gares points to the fact the current pool is "on its last legs" along with overwhelming support from the community for the project.

"This isn't a pie in the sky idea from the City of Vernon council members, this is something the community has been asking for... the necessity is there," she said.

Coun. Anderson said he didn't understand the reason for pulling out.

"They claim uncertainties, but those same uncertainties didn't stop the Cultural Centre so I'm not sure what this problem is," he said.

The councillor points to the fact that the Greater Vernon Cultural Centre project passed by referendum when a site hadn't even been chosen for the project.

When $15 million of grants failed to come through from the senior governments, both directors of Areas B and C, Bob Fleming and Amanda Shatzko, defended the decision to go ahead with the cultural centre even though it meant breaking an earlier promise to the electorate by borrowing $28 million.

READ MORE: Politicians break promise, will borrow $28M for Greater Vernon Cultural Centre

"The citizens of Vernon and Coldstream have both indicated they want a swimming pool and it's strange that the directors (of Area B and C) and Coldstream council have decided to deny their citizens a choice," Coun. Anderson said.

However, Coldstream Mayor Jim Garlick doesn't see it like that. 

"It just seems premature to be going through a referendum at this time and I think there are a lot more questions that need to be answered on it before we feel comfortable joining in," Mayor Garlick said.

The Coldstream mayor also said there is yet to be clarity from the province that a referendum would be binding as Coldstream wouldn't own any of the Active Living Centre.

Mayor Garlick also said a referendum may pull his citizens into the project when they don't want to be part of as they could easily be outvoted by Vernon's much larger population.

Coun. Anderson dismisses the suggestion.

"Historically we don't see that kind of division. The idea that people in Coldstream are not going to use the pool the same as Vernon residents – they're going out on a limb," he said.

Regardless of Coldstream or the electoral areas decision, Vernon Mayor Victor Cumming said the proposed project will still push forward with a referendum being planned to be held along with the municipal election in the fall.

Mayor Cumming said the City has been asking the surrounding communities and regional district areas whether they want to be involved and he was glad that Coldstream was engaged.

"This is absolutely consistent with what we've asked for," the mayor said.

Currently, the Vernon Active Living Centre is still in the very early planning stages but is estimated to cost between $110 and $121 million and is slated for the site of the old Kin race track.

The centre will feature a full aquatic centre including a 50-metre pool with movable bulkheads so it can create two pools. It will also include a leisure pool, a double gymnasium with multiple sports courts, a fitness centre with 80 stations and a 150-metre running track.

And while the project is pricey the mayor dismissed Coldstream and the Electoral Areas' argument about risk.

"All projects have risks and all projects have unknowns, that's why we are taking this to referendum," Cumming said.

How much the cost to Vernon taxpayers will increase if Coldstream and the regional district areas stay out of the project isn't yet known.

If the centre is approved and goes ahead on time the mayor said it would open in 2026.

The mayor said Coldstream could still participate after the referendum, but if it chose not to, a two-tier pricing system would be in place.

However, Mayor Garlick didn't seem keen on the idea.

"They can try that, lots of places have... Cranbrook tried it for a while and got rid of it," Mayor Garlick said. "What we've said, is doing the same thing as we're doing with the other facilities right now, we're paying our share towards the facility and we have access to use it."

Mayor Garlick said he'd heard the other outlining municipalities weren't in favour of joining in either, although officially nothing has been said.

Coun. Anderson did admit Coldstream's decision had muddied the water a bit and put a black cloud over the project.

Mayor of the Township of Spallumcheen, Christine Fraser, said the council hadn't yet discussed the issue.

"But I going to guess that if the areas that are in the greater Vernon service already if they think that there needs to be more consultation and more work done on it, that's probably the case," Mayor Fraser said.

Armstrong Mayor Chris Pieper said Coldstream's decision had made him a bit more hesitant about the project.

"It's a lot of money... I think everybody wants to have it but everybody tries to figure out how they're going to pay for it," he said.

Coun. Gares said while the price tag is steep, a pool is one of the few municipal amenities that services all aspects of our community regardless of age or social-economic standing. She also points out she lives in Coldstream.

"I think the residents (of Coldstream) will hold (Coldstream council) to account whether or not they feel that they made the right decision," she said. "It is an election year."

The surrounding municipalities now have until the end of April to decide whether they want to participate or not, before the issue goes back to Vernon council sometime in May.

Vernon councillor Teresa Durning refused to comment on the issue and instead said the City would be releasing an official statement.

Electoral area B director Bob Fleming and electoral area C director Amanda Shatzko did not immediately return a request for comment.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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