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10 years in the making: Azilda therapeutic pool finally gets the go ahead

Business case calls for $4.2 million surplus from MR35 project to be redirected

The work of former city councillor Evelyn Dutrisac is still being realized today, as a project that she championed a decade ago finally got the thumbs up from city council.

Meeting on March 31, the city's finance and administration committee approved the business case for the Lionel E. Lalonde Centre therapeutic leisure pool in the 2021 budget.

The project is slated at around $5.7 million for a multi-use pool that will accommodate not only therapeutic pool use, but also a wide range of activities including swimming lessons and leisure swimming for infants, toddlers and young children.

The aquatic facility would be approximately 7,400 square feet and will include a pool tank, deck space, change rooms, studio, control desk and a mechanical area.

Former Ward 4 Coun. Evelyn Dutrisac brought the project to the attention of council a decade ago, and when she retired from her seat in 2018, Geoff McCausland happily took up the mantle and in the wake of the business case's approval, commended his predecessor's dedication to the project.

"There was literally a file with all kinds of past reports, the work that's been done to date, the feasibility study, the 44 letters of support from all over the community," said McCausland. 

"I didn't know that much about it and didn't even know what a therapeutic pool was before I was running for council and the more I learned about it and dug into this as I took up the torch from Evelyn, the more I realized what an important community asset it could be."

When it came time to vote on the business case, McCausland was one of the last councillors in the voting order and the numbers had already swung in his favour. The excitement in the councillor's voice was audible as he nearly blurted out the word yes.

"It had already passed when it got to me and I almost felt like I was going to throw up," laughed McCausland. "I was just really overwhelmed."

A large portion of the funding for the project will be drawn from the capital budget for the MR35 road construction project, with $4.2 million being drawn from the under-expenditure associated with that project. An additional $1 million has been committed by the federal government through its Enabling Accessibiliy Fund.

The time crunch on the federal funding was a key piece in McCausland's presentation on the leisure pool, stressing that the city could potentially be leaving $1 million on the table if they were to vote against the project.

"This is the last chance to have this $1 million secured," said McCausland. 

"They (the federal government) made it quite clear that if we don't say yes to the pool, the $1 million will be given back. There's a slight chance that we'd be able to reapply for maybe half a million dollars, but Marc Serré said that it's by no means a guarantee and it's somewhat unlikely."

Ward 3 Coun. Gerry Montpellier raised some concern with the funding structure, stating that he wasn't completely comfortable from pulling money from a project that is not yet completed.

"The bottom line, if the money is gone any unforeseen circumstances would place the city's unfinished project in financial jeopardy," said Montpellier. "My question is who declared this astronomical surplus and why this premature projection was not made available to council, especially at this budget time. I firmly believe the road money should remain with the road until its completion."

General manager of growth and infrastructure stated that the city normally waits until the conculsion of a project to decalre any surplus and assign the money to a capital holding account.

"Staff put together an estimate on the cost to complete the project and identified the potential surplus," said Cecutti. "Council should rest assured that within the estimate to complete we still are maintaining a reasonable contingency allowance. The last phase of the project was tendered not too long ago so we have quite a degree of confidence of the cost."

Ward 12 Coun. Joscelyne Landry-Altmann referred back to the federal funding that was brought up by McCausland, stating that the city could not just leave an amount like $1 million sitting on the table.

"Through the vision and efforts (the project) garnered a grant of $1 million, we do not return a grant of $1 million," said Landry-Altmann. "You can expect that it will be a long time before we have access to a grant of $1 million."

Ward 1 Coun. Mark Signoretti raised the point that just one night prior McCausland had tabled a motion that looked at closing the Onaping Pool, and felt that the $4.2 million being redirected from the MR35 capital budget could be better spent elsewhere.

"There was discussion around the table that we need to do a facilities rationalization and that we may have excessive pools," said Signoretti. 

"The concern I have is there's potentially roughly $4 million available in capital that I would like to see going into our roads, other infrastructure projects that are in dire need. I have Lorne Street that's been on the books for many years, I know that $4 million would go a long way toward working on another section of that roadway."

The remaining costs associated with the project will be covered by the roughly $480,000 that was raised through prior community fundraising.

The motion was passed with councillors Signoretti, Michael Vagnini, Al Sizer and Mayor Brian Bigger voting in opposition


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