Demolition on the Nelson aquatic centre was well underway in November this year.

2015’s top stories No. 8: Pool renovations begin

Long-awaited renovations to the Nelson aquatic centre necessitated a lengthy closure this year.

Long-awaited renovations to the Nelson aquatic centre necessitated a lengthy closure this year, but rather than starting in May the project didn’t get underway until September.

The City of Nelson won a hard-fought compromise to a hurdle that threatened to delay the project in early January, gaining $184,000 and commitments from neighbouring rural areas to look at broadening the tax base for regional recreation by expanding the service area.

In exchange, the city threw its support behind proceeding with the $4.9 million pool renovation. (The city later agreed to hold the money in abeyance until reaching a new funding arrangement.)

Nelson Mayor Deb Kozak emphasized she didn’t want to jeopardize the city’s amicable relations with its regional district partners, but felt “a disproportionate load” of the recreation budget was falling on the city.

“It’s never my intention to throw any other politician or staff under the bus,” she said. “I’m very sensitive to the fact that the city and the regional district must work together. I’m glad we stuck around and hammered it out. We had a really vigorous discussion.”

In April, it was announced that the project had rejected two submitted tenders because both were over budget by at least $1.2 million.

“Although this tender process did not produce a bid that was within budget it is important that taxpayers receive value for money and that the facility meets the needs of the community over the next 40 years,” said Joe Chirico, the regional district’s community services manager.

In May the recreation commission changed course, choosing a construction manager to put the project out for tender in small trade-specific pieces and then coordinate their work, rather than attempting to contract the entire job out to one company.

“This allows for less risk for individual contractors, and we have more control over what they are doing,” said Chirico.

The pool finally closed in September, with a scheduled timeline of 11 months.

“It is a big gulp for the directors to think about closing for almost a year,” said Kozak. But she accepted the expertise of the company hired to manage the project, Unitech Construction Management Ltd.

Asked why the centre will be closed for 11 months when it was previously thought it would be closed for eight, Chirico said “We have had construction experts working on this in detail. That is the time they feel it would take. They said as they move along they hope to shorten it to eight.”

“We have agonized over this,” Kozak said. “As directors we are thinking not just of the immediate future but the long term future of our communities. The Nelson area is growing community, and a pool that will meet those needs into the future is paramount.”

The Star visited in November, when demolition had nearly been completed.

“This stuff was definitely on its last legs, and kudos to the people running this place for limping it through,” project manager Jeff Phillips said. They’re hoping all the work will be done by local contractors. “So far all the work has gone local and we hope that continues.”