Grand Forks pool aims for gradual reopening

The Piranhas Swim Club will be the first to test the water, starting July 20

If all goes according to plan, Piranhas may soon be back swimming at the Grand Forks Aquatic Centre – the local swim club, that is.

“We’re hoping to use the Piranhas as a test of new traffic flows we’ve got set up in the pool,” said facilities and recreation manager Paul Keys Tuesday, when he presented a reopening plan to local Regional District of Kootenay Boundary (RDKB) directors. “It helps us to prepare to get the general public back into the facility.”

The pool has been empty since mid-March, when province-wide restrictions meant to curb the spread of COVID-19 forced many public buildings to close.

Reopening plan detailed

Late last month, the pool began to offer free shower access on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 to 3 p.m. for people who need a place to get clean. The recreation manager said that uptake had been slow, with one person using the option last week, but he’s hoping it will catch on, as the first step towards a full return-to-service.

Swimming lessons resume next week, but will be held outside at the Christina Lake Provincial Park public beach, and “will be adjusted in the way they are taught, under COVID,” Keys said. Aquatic fitness classes will also be moved to Christina Lake, and are slated to start up on July 20. Dry-land classes will take place outside at Dick Bartlett Park.

The first swimmers to hit the pool will be from the Grand Forks Piranhas Swim Club. Keys said that the team will test drive the new lane-swimming configuration, and traffic flow through the facility in general. The Piranhas are aiming to dive back in on July 20.

Provided things go well with the swim club, Keys said that he’s aiming to reopen public lane swimming on Aug. 4. “It will be limited,” he said, “but it seems like a good place to start.” He said that the number of swimmers in the pool will be limited – likely 10 to 12 swimmers, maximum – and that their time in the pool will be regulated as well. Aquafit classes are slated to return to the pool the following week.

Public swims, which Keys said will likely not return until September, are more up in the air. He said that the role of lifeguards in enforcing social distancing will need to be sorted out beforehand.

“Typically, lifeguards are instructed to watch the water and nothing but the water, to watch for drowning victims,” but staff are evaluating how best to enforce social distancing in the aquatic centre.

Keys said that open swim time is the last priority on the pool’s return to service, given that its unstructured nature makes it the toughest to manage.

“We’re going to try and program the pool as much as we can, to control the numbers that way,” he said.

Budget impacts of COVID-19

A lack of rentals, classes or user fees for four months has left the pool’s combined programming and facility budget with a projected shortfall of $53,048.67 for 2020, a figure that would be even greater had the closure not also allowed the facility to save around $93,000 on staffing and other expenses.

The budget shortfall is based off an assumption that the Aquatic Centre budget will generate just 15 per cent of its expected revenue from admissions and rentals over the next six months, while the programming budget is projected to bring in just 20 per cent of previously anticipated revenues.

“I think 20 per cent is really achievable at this point, so that really is a worst-case scenario,” Keys said.

Extra cleaning of the locker rooms and other key touch points at the pool could cost as much as $15,000, Keys said, and added staff to reduce lifeguards’ movements around the pool could also add to operational costs.


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