PORT McNEILL—The Town of Port McNeill snuck in under the deadline to apply for a grant to upgrade its crumbling swimming pool. Now it will have to wait to see if the project is approved under grant criteria.
accepted council’s submission for a grant to replace aging infrastructure in the pool.
Last Thursday, the Infrastructure and Finance Division of the B.C. Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development emailed confirmation of receipt of the application to the town office along with a project reference number.
But Brian Bedford, the program’s infrastructure resource officer, said that does not indicate the project has been approved as meeting grant requirements.
“It’s simply an acknowledgment of receipt of the application,” Bedford said of the project reference number. “That’s to help us track projects as they move through the system.”
Council approval for the project came during its Dec. 19 meeting, just nine days before the application deadline.
“The grant application closes Dec. 28, so we have very little time to prepare something very involved,” Mayor Gerry Furney said. “Obviously the swimming pool is going to need major work. The heating system is wearing out. Maintenance recommends we can change that out with the help of the grant.”
The most immediate need at the pool is a heating system, but there are longer-term concerns over failing concrete in the pool itself.
Approval came despite concerns from the public that the pool upgrade would not qualify for the grant and questions from councillors wondering if there was a backup project that might be submitted in case the pool upgrade was rejected.
The maximum amount of provincial financing listed for the Community Recreational Grant is $400,000, but Furney suggested council shoot for more.
“Technically, it can go higher,” he said. “I recommend we ask for $600,000.”
Newly elected councillors Grant Anderson and Chris Sharpe made and seconded the motion before coun. Gaby Wickstrom and Furney made it unanimous. Coun. Shirley Ackland was absent, but Furney said he had spoken to her earlier and Ackland “approved the grant application 100 per cent.”
The first dissent to the proposal came at the close of the meeting, when the floor was open to comments from the public.
Former coun. Shelley Downey noted the language in the recreation grant application specifically prohibits funding for routine maintenance and upgrades to existing facilities.
“What you’re talking about doing sounds like maintenance,” Downey said. “Replacing a boiler and rusting pipes is not doing something new. It’s quite likely you’ll be declined.”
Sharpe asked if the town could submit more than one recreational grant application and Furney responded that, while regional districts like the Regional District of Mount Waddington could submit as many as three proposals, towns and municipalities like Port McNeill get only one shot each.
Wickstrom then asked if a “Plan B” was in place in case the pool project was not qualified, and Furney said that if it was necessary a special meeting of council would have to be called prior to Dec. 28.
One visitor came armed with her own Plan B and a copy of the Community Recreation Program guide that she waved at council.
“It says here it will be denied for repair of existing infrastructure,” Jill Nava Chaney said while holding up the guide. “I was wondering if the grant could be used for a bike park.”
Furney responded by pointing out a local cycling group — the North Island Trail Riders Organization — has explored construction of a riding area with volunteer labour on city-owned property along Pioneer Hill.
Nava Chaney said she has been in touch with NITRO organizers, but is reluctant to sink her time and labour into a project on land that could be sold out from under the bikers.
“Could you consider making it a permanent-use recreation area?” she asked.
“I would recommend you discuss it with the group and bring in a formal presentation,” said Furney, who noted the town has no pending offers or near-term plans to sell the property. “If any kind of sensible presentation can be made to council, we’d be happy to hear it.”
Sweet said he had been in contact with provincial officials and would call again to verify the pool project. But he added he disagreed with Downey’s and Nava Chaney’s characterization of the work.
“It’s not maintenance,” he said. “We’d be changing to an entirely new heating system. We’re not repairing it; it’ll be basically a new pool.”
Anderson said he didn’t know whether or not the pool would qualify for the grant, but something will have to be done — and soon — if it is going to remain available to the community.
“It’s in dire shape,” Anderson said. “There’s cement rotting away under the tile. It may last another year, but we’re not going to have it long without putting in a lot of money.”
The Community Recreation Program is a $30 million provincial program designed to invest in local government capital projects, specifically those that address recreational infrastructure in smaller and remote communities.
Beford said the ministry has set no timetable for awarding grants or announcing accepted .