A former NDP cabinet minister and Vision Vancouver supporter is exasperated over the park board's decision to close the Lord Byng Pool for two months for maintenance.
Dr. Tom Perry, the self-described "spokeswimmer" for more than 300 pool users, is leading a petition drive protesting the move. The petition urges people to call the city's 311 number and ask to speak to the mayor's office or the park board.
"I understand they have cost pressures," Perry, the former MLA for Vancouver–Point Grey, told the Georgia Straight by phone. "I don't think in a rich country like Canada it makes sense to be shutting down expensive capital facilities that are very important for health maintenance."
He added that one of the great things about Lord Byng Pool is it is the only place where he has mixed socially in Vancouver with Chinese-Canadian immigrants other than when he was in politics.
"It is literally the only place where we chat to each other in the swimming lanes, in the sauna, in the shower, and hot tub," Perry said. "I've made friends there on a first-name basis. We're all doing the same thing—trying to keep reasonably fit and deal with urban stress."
Perry pointed out that for older people, water makes it easier for their bodies to exercise.
"People in their late 70s, 80s, and 90s are there because it's not easy for them to walk or cycle," he stated. "In fact, it's probably impossible."
Park-board vice chair Aaron Jasper told the Straight that, according to an aquatic supervisor, there needs to be extensive repairs to the plumbing underneath the pool.
"When you're doing caulking and all the tile work and all that stuff, he says the more time you can allow it to set without it being used—put back into immediate use—it will last that much longer," he said.
There will also be electrical upgrades, replacement of lights, and painting. Jasper stated that all of this is in addition to the regular shutdown four to six weeks of annual maintenance at all park-board pools.
"When we were going through the budget discussions, we did look at facilities that were in need of additional work beyond just the regular maintenance," Jasper said. "Lord Byng was identified as one....If we were to shut it down in addition to the six weeks—a few extra weeks—we could really use that time to do additional work. That was an option that was approved."
Perry, however, said he wants the park board expand Lord Byng Pool's hours of operation.
"I'd like to see the provincial politicians—who say we need to control health expenditures—make sure municipalities have the means to keep such facilities open," he added. "I know there are hundreds of millions of dollars being wasted every year on drugs, often for people who have become too fat and develop diabetes. We just keep pouring it down the drain there, and we can't even keep a beautiful capital facility open year-round? That's what really burns me."
Jasper acknowledged that he doesn't know the finer details of operational maintenance. So he asked the aquatic supervisor if the park-board's pool closures were normal compared to what took place in other municipalities.
The commissioner learned from the aquatic supervisor that North Vancouver closes only one of its pools each year for maintenance, so three operate 12 months of the year.
"He said from the Vancouver aquatic staff's perspective, doing an annual maintenance shutdown every year on every single pool will actually extend the life of our facilities," Jasper added.
He also claimed that park-board staff are sensitive to the patrons of the Lord Byng Pool.
The number of users is lower during summer, Jasper added, and there are outdoor options, such as Kitsilano Pool, at this time of the year.