It was the 1980’s when last an indoor swimming pool facility was given serious consideration in the community. Now twenty some years later, the idea of an aquatic centre is being seriously revisited. An Aquatic Centre Committee has been formed to look at all aspects of the proposal and find answers to the public’s questions.
In 2008, the Town of Princeton in conjunction with the Regional District held a public forum to discuss the possibility of re-examining the desire of locals to pursue the construction of a recreational facility within town limits. “We wanted to test the waters to see what the interest of the general public was,” said Recreational Director Lyle Thomas. Consultants attended the meetings and after hearing what the public wanted and showcasing other recreational facility designs to the interested locals, concept drawings were drafted from popular opinion. “Through our public sessions, the consultants were able to come up with a preferred plan,” stated Thomas. “This is where the current four lane leisure pool concept came from.”
“The existing outdoor pool facility is becoming more and more problematic,” added Thomas. “It is reaching the end of its lifespan, so the timing is becoming more important.” The existing pool was built in 1967 and has many major issues that can’t be ignored.
After the positive outcome of the public meetings held in 2008, Thomas said things kind of went into a holding pattern. “The Town and RDOS put the Aquatic Centre off to the side because of the economic climate at the time, but now things have changed for the positive. Princeton is in an improved economy and the outdoor pool is in a continued decline. We decided it was time to pick up where we had left off and follow through with the public’s wishes to proceed to the referendum stage.” The Town of Princeton and Regional District of the Okanagan Similkameen under Area H Regional Director Brad Hope have come up with a timeline to inform the general public, review the concept and answer any and all questions the public might have regarding the Aquatic Centre.
An Aquatic Center Committee is the next stage. The group had their first meeting on Thursday April 14. The committee’s job is to gather answers to the public’s questions and present answers at public forums. “We want the public to go into the referendum with all their questions answered to the best of our ability,” Thomas said. “People need to feel confident in their voting position. They need to know what the financial implications will be, what the concept is, the conditions of the existing pool and everything else in between.”
May and June are critical to getting the information out to the public and getting feedback. “The Town of Princeton and the RDOS want to be forthright with all answers,” continued Thomas. “We need to be transparent.” Community engagement is an important part of this process. Now is the time to massage the concept and come up with the best possible Aquatic Centre design for Princeton. “Right now we can make changes to the design if the public majority wants them, but after the referendum the dollars approved for the project can’t change,” Thomas stated.
The Town of Princeton and Regional District are actively searching out provincial and federal grants for the proposed Aquatic Centre. Community Forests money has also been put aside for a major recreational development. “We are also exploring all energy efficient and green initiatives,” said Thomas. “We want to leave no stone unturned and that is why the public input is so crucial.”
The Aquatic Centre Committee is made up of a a diverse group of individuals throughout the area including rural residents. There is representation from medical professionals, Area H residents, town residents, young families, businessmen, Seniors, the swim club, the town staff, the school district, the RCMP and the youth. Many on the committee represent more than one interest group.
Reasons for the Aquatic Centre were many during open discussions Thursday evening. Committee members are hopeful that an Aquatic Centre will draw more professionals into the community as well as young families. Others pointed out the health benefits to residents of all ages in having a year round pool. “It keeps people healthy. It helps people get healthy. Disabled people can use it. It can be used for physiotherapy.” One mother of young children did not feel that the river was a viable option for her two kids. “The river is not safe for young kids to swim in. The current is too swift.” Year round swimming lessons was a positive aspect mentioned as was the spin off to the business community. “There is a ripple effect,” said Thomas. Many committee members perceive the Aquatic Centre as a real asset to Princeton, but are eager to hear all the facts and figures. Recreation facilities are a service to a community and many admitted to leaving town to use recreational facilities outside Princeton because of the lack of one in town.
To further explore the Aquatic Centre discussions there is a new Facebook page called “Pool for Princeton,” where people can weigh in on the issue. The Similkameen Spotlight encourages residents to write letters to the editor stating their views.