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Unused since 2020, Laurentian pool empty due to cracks, leak

Beyond basic repairs needed to get pool back to just ‘workable condition,’ millions in capital funding needed to upgrade 50-year-old facility to ‘acceptable standards,’ university VP tells Laurentian senate
200522_ben avery building laurentian university
The Ben Avery Building, which houses the Jeno Tihanyi Olympic Gold Pool, is seen here in late 2021.

The status of Laurentian University’s 50-year-old swimming pool, which has sat unused since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, was on the agenda at the May 17 meeting of LU’s senate.

Senate member Ernst Gerhardt asked for an update on the status of the Jeno Tihanyi Olympic Gold Pool.

He said this facility has been instrumental in the delivery and support of academic programming within the Outdoor Adventure Leadership program, as well as within the School of Kinesiology and Health Sciences.

Laurentian president Robert Haché deferred the question to LU vice-president, finance and administration Michel Piché.

But before he did, Haché added the preface that with any courses that require access to a pool, the university would ensure access is provided, although “not necessarily the Olympic pool on campus.”

As has been previously reported, there are significant structural issues affecting the on-campus pool, which was built in 1972.

Piché said the pool was shut down in the spring of 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and remained closed throughout 2021.

He said late in 2021, the university hired an engineering firm to conduct a structural review of the condition of the pool walls, because there was an increasing amount of cracking.

Piché said that the firm issued their report in February, and indicated repair work totalling $140,000 would need to be done to fix those issues.

During the structural investigation, it was also determined that the pool was starting to leak, and by March, the pool “was essentially empty,” he said.

Piché said Laurentian has hired a specialist firm to try to locate the source of the leak and determine what action will need to be taken, and also to deal with the damage to the wall to get the pool back into “workable condition.”

“In addition, we had a previous review of the facility that was completed in 2019 that identified the requirement for significant capital investments to bring the facility to an acceptable standard,” he said.

“And we were talking about millions of dollars that need to be invested in the pool, which is reasonable considering the age of the facility.”

Laurentian said in a 2020 online statement that a report from KPMG had found that the Ben Avery Complex and the Jeno Tihanyi pool required more than $10 million in maintenance.

Piché said the issue is that while Laurentian continues to undergo insolvency restructuring under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA), there is “limited funding available for these kinds of repairs.

“The spending on maintenance projects is only approved for critical or urgent projects. And as I indicated before, because of the age of the pool there are going to be considerable investments required to upgrade the facility to acceptable standards. 

“That will require collaboration with the various levels of governments and the community, as the pool is primarily used by the community.”

Again, while Laurentian is still under the CCAA process, “it’s very difficult to get commitments for that kind of funding,” he said.

Piché said that Laurentian expects for the foreseeable future, university instructors who need aquatic facilities will have to use City of Greater Sudbury-owned pools.

Gerhardt thanked Piché for the answers, saying “that was very helpful.” He asked if “the functioning of the pool is being addressed” in any other sort of way, adding he’d heard there’s a committee looking at pool usage.

“That's correct,” Piché answered.”We are talking to the city and also to various other groups, swimming clubs, that are using the pool to try to find a way that we can make this operation feasible longer term.”

Heidi Ulrichsen is the associate content editor at Sudbury.com. She also covers education and the arts scene.