Aquatic centre splashes back into action

Popular pool reopens after more than a year of renovations

by Galadriel Watson
The renovated main pool, looking toward the new lifeguard room.

The renovated main pool, looking toward the new lifeguard room. — Jeff Phillips photo

From preschool-age “Star Fish” programs to Aquafit for seniors, Nelson and area residents of all ages and abilities are finally enjoying a long list of new and improved aquatic amenities. Closed for renovations in October 2015, the pool area in the Nelson District Community Complex is now back open for business—and ready for a whole lot of watery fun.

“We think one of the first things people will see is how bright everything is and how new it feels,” said Marty Benson, manager of recreation for the Regional District of Central Kootenay (RDCK), which owns the complex. “While the walls haven’t changed, everything between the walls really has.”

The most noticeable upgrades include new tiling throughout, a new rope swing, a new three-metre diving platform and a grouping of the spa facilities: the steam room, sauna and hot tub. The majority of the $5.9-million project, however, took place behind the scenes. This includes a new HVAC (heating, venting and air conditioning) system and new piping, pumps and heat exchangers.

Another big improvement was a heat recovery system. Maintaining ice in the facility’s arena creates a lot of heat. Instead of losing that heat into the atmosphere, the system can now capture it and use it to heat the pool water, tap water and air. This will help the facility use less natural gas and reduce greenhouse gases.

Craning the air handling unit onto the roof of the community complex.

Moving the air handling unit by crane onto the roof of the community complex in Nelson was just one part of the renovation process. — Jeff Phillips photo

“Nearly 50 per cent of the cost was mechanical systems,” said the RDCK’s Jeff Phillips, who managed the project. “All the stuff that you don’t see, that was failing, is now set up for the next 40 years. The RDCK thanks all of the local contractors, the Kootenay contractors and the patrons—it was a major disruption to them.”

Longer than expected
Vancouver’s Unitech Construction Management Ltd. oversaw the renovations. While the RDCK had originally hoped for the project to take only eight months, it quickly learned that was too optimistic. The timeline was extended to 11 months—and then actually took 13.

As with most renovation projects, the contractor ran into some unhappy surprises. For example, workers discovered that some walls that should have been reinforced weren’t. Plus, while adding a duct, they found major water damage in the floor of the facility’s cardio area, which meant gutting the entire cardio room.

Craning the air handling unit onto the roof of the community complex.

A crane is employed to lift the air handling unit onto the roof of the Nelson & District Community Complex. — Jeff Phillips photo

But these issues weren’t the main reason for the project’s delay. Said Phillips: “Fortunately, during the process, we were successful on a grant application.” Previously, the regional district was going to foot the entire bill. Now it found itself in the lucky position of being able to reduce its own contribution—which it was borrowing—while getting a nearly $4.6-million boost through the Strategic Priorities Fund, administered through the Union of British Columbia Municipalities, in partnership with the federal and provincial governments. Suddenly the heat recovery system, which had been put aside due to cost, could be added back into the project.

Well worth the wait
On average, about 500 people per day use the aquatic centre. How did they cope during the renovations? “It was missed by all, including myself,” said Phillips. “I think a lot of people went to Castlegar to get their swimming in, or to use their steam room. Some of the swim clubs went up to Salmo to use their outdoor pool for their swim meets. I think it was helpful that we had such a great snow year, so everybody was busy skiing.”

In the summer, people could take advantage of the city’s Gyro Park and waterfront. Others took up fitness classes on dry land instead of jumping into a pool. Also making the absence easier was the fact that the regional district offered a “wellness pass.” This allowed pass-holders to use any of the community complexes and fitness centres in Castlegar, Creston, Nelson and Salmo; this initiative now continues as a permanent opportunity.

The construction also affected aquatic centre staff, who found themselves lacking their usual source of employment. “We’re really excited to get everybody back here and to get our regular team back together again,” said recreation manager Benson. “We’re doing an extensive hiring of new lifeguards and new swim instructors, so there will be a lot of new faces within the facility. It will be great to get that new perspective on how to operate and how to make sure that it is a welcoming and inviting environment for people.”

Pool guards train at the renovated facility.

Pool guards train at the renovated facility. — Jeff Phillips photo

While a few of the original amenities were relatively recent—the leisure pool, slide and change rooms were added in 2005—many were much older, with the pool tank dating back to 1972. Thanks to the renovations, they’re now all equally ready to provide fitness and fun for many more decades to come.
“We’ve heard comments throughout the project about the importance the aquatic centre has for our community, both for general use by individuals and use by our swim clubs, by people who are learning to swim and everyone in between,” said Benson. “People are really excited to get back in.”

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