Oliver pool and arena narrowly avoid getting axed
It was a close call for two Oliver recreation facilities last December as the City of Edmonton looked for ways to reduce costs amid budget deliberations.
Oliver Pool and the Oliver Arena were facing budget cuts that would have shuttered them in 2021. Council was looking for ways to reduce tax rates for the year so the two downtown facilities, along with the Scona and Eastglen pools as well as the Tipton arena, were on the chopping block. The combined savings would have equalled about $1.2 million.
Vocal support from community organizations and residents saved the facilities, with council voting unanimously to continue funding them for this year.
“Now the big thing is waiting to see if anything changes in the operations of this pool and other outdoor pools in the city,” Lisa Brown said, Hall and Recreation Director for the Oliver Community League. “Another big question is investment in the facility to see if we will continue to have an outdoor pool in the long term.”
The Oliver Pool has been closed for the past two seasons. In 2019, the City shut it down to repair a leak in the bottom of the pool. It remained closed through 2020 due to the pandemic.
“My personal opinion is the City of Edmonton has too few outdoor pools and we need to be investing in ours,” Brown said. The city is currently wrapping up the recreation plan based on public engagement for the needs of Oliver residents.
Without nearby lakes or slow-moving rivers, there is no good alternative for cooling off in the summer and Brown said other communities are looking at outdoor pools as a way to deal with the consequences of climate change.
About 80 people signed up to speak against the closures at a city council meeting in early December. That large outpouring of concern was a crucial part in overturning the decision to cut funding.
“I think council got a bit of a lesson in the budget deliberations about how many Edmontonians feel about core services,” Councillor Scott McKeen of Ward 6, which covers Oliver, said. “Those core services are the recreation amenities in neighbourhoods. They are beloved. I was really heartened by that.”
McKeen said there’s an opportunity for the city to look beyond large recreation facilities, which end up becoming “regional facilities”, and to instead focus on smaller amenities such as the Oliver Pool and smaller parks with outdoor workout equipment.
More than 15,000 people used the pool in 2018, the last year that it was open. The year prior to that, 20,000 people walked through the gates. Oliver Arena attracts almost 30,000 people every year.