When Coun. Heather Eby said the writing is on the wall for the Natatorium during a city council meeting in June, she wasn’t wrong.
In that meeting, council was deliberating the allocation of $30,000 to the Natatorium to repair the structural shoring of the indoor pool.
The shoring needed to be repaired because the mechanical equipment for the Phyllis Dewar outdoor pool is located beneath the deck of the indoor pool.
The money was eventually approved, in spite of hesitation from Eby, by unanimous vote with Mayor Deb Higgins and Coun. Patrick Boyle absent.
It’s a gesture that has become all too familiar with respect to the Natatorium, which is a designated municipal heritage site.
The problem is that now, the Phyllis Dewar pool is also in need of repairs because of leaks discovered when it opened earlier this year.
If the outdoor pool is the reason the Natatorium still stands, what happens when the outdoor pool is no longer functioning?
Further, what will happen to the pool itself?
The answer to those questions was pretty emphatically given when the city’s executive committee defeated a motion by Coun. Brian Swanson to remove the outdoor pool from a request for proposals (RFP) on the redevelopment of the Natatorium.
Though several members of that body said they were unwilling to consider proposals that would demolish the pool, it was strongly suggested by city administration that both buildings are “inextricably” linked, because the mechanicals for the Phyllis Dewar facility are part of the Natatorium.
In other words, if one goes, so must the other; anything aside from a total redevelopment of both would be impossible.
Unless an angel investor arrives and puts forward the funding to repair the Natatorium — a sum which is predicted to be considerable (one report suggested that simply infilling the indoor pool would cost $275,000, and that is only a preliminary estimate and represents just one small part of the work required) — it seems unlikely that either facility will be saved.
The only alternative to funding such a project in a city as financially strapped as this one would be a community fund, and a proposal suggesting such a fund was struck down by council late in 2013.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with approving the RFP process, except that entering into it sends a pretty clear message what the intent is with the Natatorium and, as a result, the Phyllis Dewar pool.
The loss of those facilities would be a great one, felt by many in this city.
But the shame in this situation isn’t that the building and the pool would be lost, though that would certainly raise a clamour all its own.
It isn’t even that the writing has been on the wall for those facilities, essentially, since the Natatorium was closed 20 years ago and allowed to degrade to the state it is in today.
It’s that — excepting Eby — there isn’t a single individual who voted for the RFP who is willing to be honest about what’s coming down the pipes.
Justin Crann can be reached at 306-691-1265 or follow him on Twitter @J_Crann