Thursday, July 18, 2024

Proposed aquatic centre could meet ‘desperate need’ for world-class venue | CBC News

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Ottawa is preparing to dive into an agreement with Carleton University that could create a new world-class aquatic centre, potentially putting the city back on the map for national competitions.

Water sports groups have been calling for a new Olympic-scale aquatic centre for at least a decade, saying it would be an opportunity for elite athletes to both train and compete closer to home.

According to a proposal heading to the finance and corporate services committee next month, staff are recommending the city enter into non-binding negotiations with Carleton on a partnership to “fund, develop, manage and operate” a centre with both a 25-metre and 50-metre pool.

“The need is great,” said Kathleen Murphy, who founded the Ottawa National Diving Club and coached there for years. “This city is in desperate need of deep water in the 50-metre pool.”

But any new facility, she said, will have to accommodate the needs of divers, swimmers, and other sports like synchronized swimming and water polo.

Home pool advantage

There are three 50-metre pools across the city, at the University of Ottawa, Carleton University and the Nepean Sportsplex.

But all of them are aging, the report notes, and don’t meet enough of the requirements for some national competitions. Carleton’s pool lacks enough swim lanes, while the University of Ottawa facility doesn’t have enough spectator space.

For divers at the Nepean Sportsplex, temperature is a problem, Murphy said.

“Divers are absolutely freezing to death by the time they’re finished,” she said. “They get out of the water completely cold instead of their muscle capacity being warm.”

Despite multiple repairs, the 50-year-old sportsplex and its aging infrastructure is no longer viable for anything but regional competitions — something Alex Perreault, a swimmer who’s competed on multiple national teams, feels needs to change.

“There’s that advantage of playing at home,” he said. “Knowing how you feel in the pool, being in the comfort of your own house … changes the game, the level of readiness and the prep.”

Mathieu Fleury, president of the Ottawa Sport Council, stands on the University of Ottawa campus on June 21, 2024. Fleury says Ottawa needs a new aquatic centre to keep elite athletes in the city, bring more tourism to the region and provide additional facilities for the public. (Kimberley Molina/CBC)

That’s a sentiment echoed by Ottawa Sport Council chair Mathieu Fleury, who championed a similar facility when he was a city councillor.

Ottawa’s population has more than doubled since the sportsplex was built, Fleury said, and the existing facilities can’t meet the demand of both the community and high-performance athletes.

Many athletes have to travel to Gatineau, Toronto or Montreal to train.

“As a capital city, not being able to host Canada Summer Games or Canada Winter Games poses questions,” Fleury said. “The fact that we’re a capital city here in Ottawa, we deserve … a national, international-level pool.”

But he also said any new facility will also need a strong community-based learn-to-swim program.

$54.6M price tag

While the anticipated cost for the new facility has ballooned over the last five years, to $54.6 million from $39 million in 2019, Capital ward Coun. Shawn Menard says the joint venture will ultimately save residents money.

“[There’s] a huge need for the city to have a proper aquatic facility that can attract events but also allow for resident use. And so it’s exciting to think about the possibilities here,” he said.

The expectation is the pool will be built sooner than later, he said, touting the fact its location along the Trillium Line will make it easier to access.

A large multi-lane swimming pool.
Some Ottawa athletes have to travel hours away to train in places like Toronto, where this 10-lane, 50-metre pool at the Pan Am Sports Centre is located. (Scott Russell/CBC Sports)

In a statement to CBC last week, Carleton University said it’s pleased about entering into discussions with the city.

“With our existing swimming pool nearing end-of-life, this an exciting opportunity to consider a much-needed aquatic facility that will meet the needs of both our campus community and the City of Ottawa,” it said.

The facility would address “the increased demand for aquatic sports and public swimming access” while providing “a modern standard for aquatic recreation and competitive events” wrote Dan Chenier, the city’s general manager of recreation, cultural and facility services, in an email.

For Murphy, her wishlist would include facilities for high diving — a sport divers campaigned to be included in the upcoming Paris Olympics but which she believes will make its Olympic debut in Los Angeles in 2028.

“They’re really going to miss the boat if they don’t include indoor high diving,” she said. “It would be the first facility in the world to include high diving indoors.”

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