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'Nobody is listening' to Grandview Heights pool concerns: Looye

South Surrey masters swimmer Aart Looye is one of a handful of members from the local aquatic community who are rallying for a larger pool to be built in Grandview Heights. Below, the intersection of 24 Avenue and 168 Street, where the pool is to be built. - File photo
South Surrey masters swimmer Aart Looye is one of a handful of members from the local aquatic community who are rallying for a larger pool to be built in Grandview Heights. Below, the intersection of 24 Avenue and 168 Street, where the pool is to be built.
— image credit: File photo

When it comes to re-jigging plans for the proposed Grandview Heights aquatic centre, the City of Surrey has been asking for suggestions.

But what members of the aquatic community want to know is, are they actually being heard?

Local user groups of swimmers and divers – amateurs and world champions among them –  have formed a unified group to present to the city their concerns that the 50-metre pool proposed for Grandview Heights will be too small to host all the groups wishing to use it, and will not be sufficiently large enough to host national or international meets.

Since November, the group has been corresponding with city staff members and councillors, in an attempt to sway the city into building something larger at the corner of 24 Avenue and 168 Street, where the facility is to be built. They appeared as a delegation during a parks committee meeting last week.

“They have all these open houses where they ask people to come and talk, but nobody seems to really be listening,” said Aart Looye, a masters swimmer who is heading up the groups’ combined effort. “It was a pretty frosty reception. They’ve got their minds made up already.”

White Rock Divers founder Bev Boys – a three-time Olympian – echoed Looye’s statement, saying “they just don’t learn, it’s very frustrating.

“But that’s the government for you. It’s called placating.”

Boys – an international diving judge – noted she was unable to attend last week, as she was training Peninsula divers in Victoria.

Monday, Coun. Tom Gill – chair of the city’s finance committee who also chaired last week’s parks meeting – confirmed the consultation process “is nearing an end,” and said construction is slated to begin next year.

Gill said many of the delegation’s concerns would be addressed in a second phase, with the creation of additional pool space.

“Phase 2 will happen – the question is when? It may be five years, 10 years… (but) there is no question that this pool can accommodate competitions.”

Gill reiterated the city’s stance that two pools – one in Grandview, another in Guildford – would best suit Surrey’s needs.

“There is no question in my mind that building two 50-metre pools is the right thing to do,” he said.

“The delegation’s position is that further enhancement is needed for Phase 1 of the project.”

Gill noted that in the meantime, temporary pools – if needed – could be set up in the parking lot for larger competitions.

Members of last week’s delegation suggested downsizing the Guildford project in order to finance a larger pool in Grandview, but Gill said he does not believe in “taking from one side to give to the other.”

Gill said the Grandview pool is estimated to cost about $53 million, while the Guildford centre is budgeted for $41-42 million.

He noted the budget is not the “overriding issue” behind the decision to go with a 50-m pool, but added “we are of the opinion that by (adding) extra capacity, the budget is significant.”

“These pools are very expensive, and I don’t believe any municipality has ever built two pools at once in the same building,” he said.

“Pools have generally been money-losers for municipalities.”

Asked if any input from the public-consultation process was of use, Gill said “there was a significant amount of knowledge brought to staff.”

Olympian Brittany Reimer (’04)was dismayed the city did not seem to consider the advice of her group, which includes synchronized swimmer Janice Birch, an Olympic silver medalist (’96).

“I definitely felt that vibe when I was there,” Reimer said. “And it’s too bad, because growing up in Surrey, I felt so much support from the community… a (bigger) facility is valuable for everyone.

“There’s no reason to close the door on us – let’s just take a step back and figure out what we need to do, and how we’ll get there. They shouldn’t rush to a final decision – let’s talk a bit more.”

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