A Surrey city councillor says blaming public swimming pools closures on COVID-19 won’t hold water.
Coun. Linda Annis, of Surrey First, issued a press release Tuesday protesting that only three of Surrey’s five indoor aquatic centres are open. She also wants to know when the City of Surrey will reopen the others.
Currently the Grandview Heights Aquatics Centre, Surrey Sport & Leisure Complex and the Guildford Recreation Centre are open for public swimming, each with a 50-metre pool, smaller pools and diving boards. The South Surrey Indoor Pool is currently closed, as is the Newton Recreation Centre Wave Pool, which is expected to open on March 29.
“In 2019, we had 51,000 Surrey kids enrolled in swimming programs, but in 2021 we had just over 3,000 and continuing to use COVID as an excuse is wearing thin, particularly when only three of five aquatic centres are open,” Annis said.
She said the city is not hiring enough aquatic staff and is pointed her finger at “the out-of-control costs of the mayor’s police transition, and the fact that every available dollar at city hall is going to cover those costs.
“I estimate the real cost of the transition to be at least $200 million. That’s taxpayer money that isn’t available for pools, parks, rinks, and community centres, and that doesn’t even include the work that’s not being done to fix and maintain our city streets.”
Laurie Cavan, Surrey’s general manager of Parks, Recreation and Culture, said that “limited staffing capacity for lifeguards” and support staff, because of the pandemic, resulted in programming and hours of operation changes at Surrey’s aquatic centres.
“Maintaining adequate aquatic staffing levels during the pandemic have created an ongoing challenge for many communities across the province,” Cavan told the Now-Leader. She noted that the pools that are open are geographically “dispersed for great access by all of Surrey residents.”
She said the city is “ramping up” recruitment and training sessions and 17 new lifeguards have been hired so far this year. “We continue to build our staff teams to increase lesson programming, services, and operational hours and to support the safe reopening of facilities that remain closed,” Cavan said.
“The COVID pandemic has brought and caused program restrictions, staffing shortages and illness that have all contributed to increased wait times and reduced programming,” Cavan added. “The City is investing more resources and efforts into life-guarding recruitment. We don’t track wait-list information and it varies from course to course. As a spot becomes available, due to a withdrawal, the next person on the list is contacted to fill the spot. We work through the list until the spot is filled.”
Annis says “more and more” parents are frustrated at the pools being closed and are angry “so much is being directed to a costly police transition program that has no real budget, accountability or public transparency.
“A city like Surrey, which is so attractive to young families, needs all of its pools, rinks, parks, libraries and community centres to be open,” Annis added. “We even cancelled the aquatic centre planned for City Centre, a neighbourhood that will grow by 20,000 residents over the next five years.”
Cavan noted that prior to the pandemic Surrey residents were “very well served” by three 50-metre aquatic centres, two community swimming pools and eight outdoor swimming pools. She also noted that the Guildford Recreation Centre pool opened in 2015, the Grandview Heights Aquatic Centre in 2016, and that the city aims to build a new 50-metre swimming pool in Newton.