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Don’t let Fredericton’s aquatic sports go down the drain

The Daily Gleaner by Jennifer Andrews 17 November 2016

The University of New Brunswick recently announced that it is decommissioning the Sir Max Aitken Pool in 2018. Built in 1940, the pool and the building which houses it are reaching the end of their lifespan. This announcement is no surprise. What is troubling is the lack of action taken by the City of Fredericton and the Province of New Brunswick to address the impending closure of the only pool in the capital city that houses multiple community clubs. In 2011, the City of Fredericton completed a needs assessment for a new aquatic facility. Yet five years later there is still no clear plan in place for replacing the Aitken pool. What are we waiting for?

The Fredericton Aquanauts Swim Team, the Fredericton Diving Club, the Masters Swimming Club (for individuals 18 and over) and the Fredericton Synchronized Swimming Club all use the pool on a daily basis, along with recreational users who lap swim, take swimming lessons and life-guard certification, play water-polo, and learn how to scuba dive. The City of Fredericton takes great pride in its status as a high quality place to live with an abundance of recreational facilities. The Province of New Brunswick has spent much money promoting the importance of health and wellness for all citizens. But without a functioning pool to house all of these community members what message is being sent to those who live in Fredericton?

I am a former competitive swimmer, a current recreational swimmer, and the parent of a synchronized swimmer. I live in a city where we have seven indoor hockey rinks (including two recently constructed ones) but there are no concrete plans to build a new aquatic facility. Having spent many afternoons and evenings at the Aitken pool I can attest to the fact that most of the time it looks more like a collision course with hundreds of children, adults, and senior citizens crowding the pool. The reason? The Aitken pool is regulation competition size with the only underwater tank in the city, which means it can be used for recreational and competitive swimming, diving, and synchronized swimming, with multiple groups in the same facility at once. The Northside pool and the YMCA pool both lack a deep end sufficient for diving or synchronized swimming, and do not meet the standard for competitive swim meet competitions. Like the Aitken pool, they are already extremely busy.

In recent years I have found myself travelling around the province to attend swim meets. Most recently, we were in Campbellton, a city of 9,000 residents; they have a beautiful Civic Recreational Complex that includes a competition size pool, water slide, two Olympic sized ice rinks, squash and racquet facilities and a fitness centre. There are equally impressive aquatic centres in Woodstock, Moncton, and Saint John. All of these cities have built pool complexes that marry the needs of recreational and competitive swimmers, a strategy that makes sense given the diversity of the groups currently using the Aitken pool on a daily and weekly basis. Such a facility in Fredericton would ensure that the city’s residents could continue to participate in a variety of recreational and competitive water sports, host competitive meets, and cultivate local talent while making the pool usable for every member of the community.

So what do I tell my daughter who spends on average 10-hours week practicing a sport that has taught her discipline and the importance of teamwork, boosted her confidence, and ensured that she is a healthy, active child when the Aitken pool closes? Are we not committed to the future of our community—our children—and their wellness? In a province with embarrassingly high obesity rates, a fast-growing aging population, and a desire to prevent outmigration, the need for a new pool is obvious.

Jennifer Andrews is a Fredericton resident, former competitive swimmer, and concerned parent