The city’s plans for a new aquatic centre has been in the works since the federal government approved $12.9 million in funding in 2016, but the project could be treading water as the Covid-19 challenges timelines and funding limits.
City councillor Niels Konge brought the issue forward as an administrative inquiry during the May 11 regular council meeting. Konge asked what the current status of the pool project is and whether the city is on schedule to look at 25-metre length options. In January, council had asked city administration to revise its conceptual plans and come back with plans for a 25-metre pool in addition to the already proposed 52-metre lane pool.
Senior Administrative Officer Sheila Bassi-Kellett told council last week that whether project moves forward depends on if the federal government will grant the city an extension on the deadline that the city must spend $12.9 million in Building Canada funds. The city has committed to spend the money by March 2023 as a condition of getting the funds.
“That’s very tight for us right now we need to make sure that we still have access to that funding,” Bassi-Kellett said. “We’re awaiting a response back from the federal government through Municipal and Community Affairs. ”
Bassi-Kellett told councillors that right before the pandemic in late February, the city had been planning to launch public consultations on the 25 metre and 50-metre options to move forward with the project. However, due to the public health restrictions that were put in place, the city was unable to meet openly with large numbers of people.
“These restrictions have really impacted our ability to reach out to the community to gain public feedback on options requested by council,” she said, adding that reaching out to the public meaningfully included “ensuring that the public has information, and detail on what the implications could be so that they can make an informed decision around the the potential of a new Aquatic Center, when they are asked to vote on whether or not they support the city to borrow the money that we’ll need to complete the project.”
Bassi-Kellett said, and Mayor Rebecca Alty has also reiterated, that doing public consultations online will pose limits on the city’s ability to consult with the public to gather a high degree of certainty on what the public’s sentiment is with the project.
“Right now, we’re behind because we haven’t had public engagement yet,” Alty said earlier this month. “So if there’s no possibility for an extension, the projects could be in a difficult situation.
“I think we do have to stop and and take stock of where the community is at when it comes to the financial demand that a pool would have. So I think we do need a bit of breathing room to see what what this is going to look like and how much this is going to impact Yellowknife residents before we can have that discussion on the pool’s future.”
Alty said depending on whether the federal government accepts the extending or not will depend on what the future of the project looks like, but in either case council will have to discuss the issue at an upcoming government priorities committee to determine the next steps forward.
City still waiting
Alison Harrower, corporate communications advisor with the city stated in an email on May 26 there has been no word on a potential extension for funding.
“The City has submitted, and is waiting for a response to, a request to extend the Building Canada Funding deadline of March 2023,” she stated. “Once the City receives a reply to this request, the Aquatic Centre project will continue in the most effective way to achieve Council’s goal in the timeline available.
“The COVID-19 pandemic and associated guidelines issued by the Canadian Public Health Association poses challenges to the Public Consultation Strategy that the City has used, and the public has been accustomed to, in the past. The City and the Consulting team are finalizing the consultation strategy that will ensure the public is provided with the critical information needed to make an informed decision on the project, in a format that follows all Public Health Orders and advice.”
NNSL Media also reached out to Infrastructure Canada to see if there was any chance for an extension for the city.
Jen Powroz, media relations with the federal department wouldn’t commit to any extension in a May 19 email.
“Infrastructure Canada’s programs are designed to be flexible and responsive to the needs of our partners. We recognize that large infrastructure projects are complex, and construction schedules can be affected by a number of factors, including the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The New Building Canada Fund was a 10-year program that launched in 2014, and was set to end in 2024-25. The Small Communities Fund is a subcomponent of the New Building Canada Fund, and is subject to the same timelines.
“We are aware of an extension request made to the territory by the city of Yellowknife; however, we cannot comment on its specific details of the request at this time. We will continue to work with the Government of the Northwest Territories as we provide funding support for its infrastructure priorities.”