VSPOP Critique

Vancouver Society for Promotion of Outdoor Pools (VSPOP)

Critique of VanSplash Aquatic Study Recomendations

Sept 21, 2017


This critique references the 110 Page VanSplash Aquatic Study Report that was presented at the June 19, 2017 Park Board meeting.

To begin with, this is not technically a ‘study’ as it is largely lacking in any factual evidence  to substantiate the recommendations and claims made in the report, and does not explain how rationales were formed. It includes many photos of precedent study facilities from around the world, without any data from the studies. We can go online and look these up, but is the general public responding to these questionnaires likely to do that?  Or will we be more likely to respond like typical consumers being asked if we want an outdoor hot tub, not realizing what the sacrifice is for that small token. The inadequate substance of ‘study’ material for Vancouver’s aquatics system and needs is also very generalized, based on focussed questions designed by the consultants who specialize in architectural design of major destination swimming pools. VanSplash is not a neutral independent study.

Here is an excerpt from page 6 of HCMA’s March 2016 Case Study on natural swimming pools, touting the benefits of outdoor swimming, using research based data:

Outdoor swimming is argued to hold many benefits over indoor swimming. Views of natural surroundings are shown to greatly reduce stress and improve mood. Fresh air cleanses the lungs and strengthens the immune system as well as boosts energy levels. Swimming under the sky is more pleasurable than indoors, and alludes to a sense of freedom. Beyond swimming, users can enjoy relaxing in natural sunlight which has been found to elevate mood and improve muscle strength. The closer humans are to a natural environment, the more health benefits they are able to take advantage of.

It turns out that HCMA is not opposed to stand alone outdoor swimming pools as long as they involve extensive and costly studies and architectural design, including the notions of a floating pool on False Creek and a natural pool on the Fraser River.

As a community based volunteer advocacy group, VSPOP has been collecting, substantiating, and sharing worldwide evidence since Vancouver’s outdoor neighbourhood pools were demolished, in order to demonstrate the social and health benefits of using outdoor swimming facilities.  VSPOP has been a focal voice for invaluable community based intellectual and professional capital, and has always been willing to assist Park Board in optimizing and realizing plans for restoring Vancouver’s outdoor swimming pools, per the City of Vancouver’s Healthy Strategy Goals.

The evidence is overwhelming: municipal outdoor swimming pools and facilities have measurable and invaluable positive effects on the health and well being of citizens.  The number of luxury homes with private swimming pools is on the rise, but with our high cost of living, the majority of people in Vancouver are barely scraping by. Many of Vancouver’s most marginalized and poorest citizens need these facilities desperately, and would benefit the most. But if VanSplash recommendations were approved by our elected Park Board Commissioners, these citizens would stand to lose the most.

VanSplash: Public Survey Document

Below are some points, opinions, and questions about the information contained in the powerpoint slides of the Public Survey Document.

Slide 28:

-Natural outdoor swimming Pool: 67% of respondents said they like this idea, but do they know that it could take up to 25 years to build, per HCMA’s statement confirming this at the July 19, 2017 Park Board meeting?

-Swimming Pool in the ocean – why? We have 3 swimming pools on the ocean already.

-Drinks with alcohol at beaches and pools – this does nothing to increase swimming opportunities, but may increase drowning opportunities. People already drink at the pools and beaches without VanSplash approval – check it out.

-More spa experiences: great, but that does not increase swimming opportunities.

-More easily accessible information?   We suggest some more accurate fully researched and substantiated data without all the fancy cartoon graphics, perhaps researched by a consultant that does not have the opportunity to benefit from the outcome of the recommendations.

-Temporary pools: Why?  It is wasteful to build a pool then take it away, when the money could be used to build permanent pools since we have a shortage. We expect more for Vancouver’s aquatic facilities. Besides, pop-up pools were already rejected by Park Board per slide 143 of the presentation.

-Swim lessons at beaches: super, bring them on.  Make them free.

Slides 25 and 29:

-We would like to see published all of the comments received from all 4,556 hard copy surveys, not just the few comments cherry picked by the consultants to suit their agenda.

-Are the 60 translated Chinese hardcopy surveys included in the 4,556 hard copy surveys, or are they in addition to these? It is not made clear.

-We would like to see published all 45 email comments received.

-How do the graphs on these two slides form the rationale for the recommendations? It does not appear that the recommendations are based on the survey results.

Slide 30:

-150 stakeholder groups were invited to participate in the focus groups.  Despite indicating the desire to participate and being one of the most vocal groups in the city regarding aquatics, the Vancouver Society for Promotion of Outdoor Pools was not included in the list of 150 stakeholders that were invited to participate.

-We would like to see all of the comments from all 5 meetings of the 60 stakeholder groups who participated.

Slide 104:

-Note the anticipated population growth in the central area of the inner city is +18%

Slide 107:

-Again,we would like to see published all of the comments received from all 4,556 questionnaires, not just the few comments cherry picked by the consultants to suit their agenda.

Slide 126:

-Recommends closure of 4 indoor swimming pools in a veiled manner.

Slide 133:

-Moving away from neighbourhood pools actually reduces the diversity in aquatic experiences by eliminating the experience of neighbourhood scale pools. It also reduces the number of classes available for swim lessons. It takes swimming experiences completely away from residents who use these pools extensively, such the diverse user group at Templeton Pool.

Slide 139:

-Central Park Pool is in Burnaby.

Slide 140:

-There is no supporting data to back up the claim that co-located pools require a lower subsidy.  We would like to see the data to support this claim using similar types of projects (facilities of similar size, age, operating systems, staffing levels, wages, user fees, etc).

-Co-located pools do not have a longer outdoor swim season in Vancouver.  The only outdoor pool which has had an extended season in the past that we know of is Kitsilano pool, which is a stand-alone outdoor swimming pool. This year, the stand alone outdoor swimming pools at New Brighton and Second Beach pools had an extended season.

Slide 141:

-Provide outdoor pools in areas with service gaps.Although Killarney does not have an outdoor swimming pool, retrofitting an existing indoor pool to accommodate a small outdoor play pool after the fact seems wasteful and does not align with the recommendation that outdoor facilities should be considered for co-location when new indoor facilities are built. Why did the planning for the new Killarney aquatic cnetre not include the small outdoor leisure pool in the original plans?

-Although Marpole is experiencing growth, after completion of site acquirement, feasibility studies, toxicology reports, environmental impact studies including increasing flood risk due

to climate change, and public consultation, the Park Board will be into its next 25 year study. Are the residents of Marpole, current and future, expected to wait this long for an opportunity to swim outdoors? Marpole has been waiting too long for an outdoor swimming pool to replace Oak Pool which was closed in 1996. The powerpoint is not clear enough about the extensive timeline and challenges with this idea.

-Densification is already well underway in the urban core: in Mount Pleasant, along the Cambie corridor, and the Grandview area: parts of the city that have been underserved in outdoor swimming pools for too long.

-Leisure swimming and water play is not exclusively desirable to children. Small outdoor leisure pools such as Hillcrest actually limit these activities for most of the population’s age ranges, and they exclude fitness swimmers entirely. They are less inclusive facilities and the cost/benefit must be considered when investing in a pool that might serve 10% of the population throughout the next 60 years.

-Building another leisure pool will not address the elimination of diving boards that came with the demolition of outdoor community swimming pools. The diving boards had the key benefits of providing opportunities for skill development, fun, and challenge.

-Leisure pools should be built in addition to, not instead of, outdoor swimming pools.

Slide 144:

-Wading pools and hot tubs are not swimming pools.

Slide 146:

-Recommending an outdoor spray park or a hot tub under the recommendations for outdoor swimming pools is unacceptable in a $200,000.00 report.

-Spray parks should be built in addition to, not instead of, outdoor swimming pools.

Slide 147:

-We have a natural pool already at Trout Lake.  At a presentation on water management at the Park Board committee meeting on September 18, 2017, a Parks Commissioner asked why Trout Lake was not recommended as a “natural” pool.  The response was that it would have to be partitioned because the contamination in the lake would require the swimming area to be lined.  Perhaps it is more feasible to clean up the pollution in Trout Lake before talking about creating a multi million dollar natural pool on the Fraser River, per slide 174.

Slide 153:

-Locating a harbour deck at an already popular swimming location does not increase swimming opportunities. It does provide a place to jump into the water from. The diving boards at the outdoor swimming pools were extremely popular.  There are no longer any outdoor swimming pools with diving boards in Vancouver.

-More studies: environmental, water quality, engineering and technical, siting studies, etc, all  beyond the scope of VanSplash. We already have the technology to build an outdoor swimming pool. Perhaps Van Splash’s ‘precedent study’ facilities should include those outdoor swimming pools which are built using modern and green technologies. Do we need to spend even more money on even more studies or do Vancouverites just need more outdoor pools in the inner city immediately to go swimming in the summer heat?

Slide 159:

-Toronto operates 100 outdoor wading pools with no trends to close them. According to Toronto Parks, Forestry, and Recreation – Aquatics, they have not had any issues in regard to meeting Health Regulations at their 100 wading pools. Perhaps HCMA could investigate how other cities are managing to operate wading pools safely before making the recommendation to close all Vancouver wading pools and perhaps they could share their findings with the public. Simply making these statements without any background data leaves the public with more questions than answers.

Slide 160:

-Please explain how spray parks are more socially inclusive than wading pools.

Slide 166:

-Spray parks indeed seem to be more dynamic, but how was it concluded that people generally find them more fun than wading pools? Is there some existing research on how much fun children have at spray pads vs. wading pools over a period of time including a substantial sample of interviews with children behind this claim? If so, such research should form a part of this study that would ideally be undertaken by an unbiased researcher.

-Why is there no mention of wading pools providing children’s first swimming experience, often leading to lessons in larger swimming pools. You cannot swim in a spray park.

Slide 172:

-A hot pile of sand in the inner city on a 31 degree summer day does not sound particularly aquatic, and provides only the illusion that people have access to water.

– It should be taken under careful consideration whether people need colourful plastic floating play parks that are nothing more than future landfill material in order to enjoy a day at the beach.

-How do wibits contribute to our Greenest City goals?

Vancouver Society for Promotion of Outdoor Pools Summary of VanSplash

It seems that all of the outdoor recommendations in VanSplash are for amenities that would be sited where there is already water: existing swimming pools, False Creek, Fraser  River, and a dock at an already popular swimming spot. There are no recommendations for outdoor swimming pools in areas of the city that have no outdoor water amenities or natural water access whether for swimming or just for the refreshing aspect of being close to water, with the exception If another small outdoor leisure pool at an existing indoor aquatic centre.

None of the recommendations define whether the outdoor facilities will be swimming pools or wading pools. It was stated in a verbal response to Commissioners’ questions at the July 19th Park Board meeting that Killarney would be a wading pool (similar to Hillcrest), and there is no information about the swim experience at the distant natural pool on the Fraser River. Diagrams in HCMA’s March 2016 Case Study on natural pools suggest that there is no deep end in the pool they are proposing.

Toronto has 60 indoor swimming pools, 59 outdoor swimming pools, 100 outdoor wading pools, 93 splash pads, and the KidsTown Water Park.  Note that the number of outdoor swimming pools is almost equal to the number of indoor swimming pools, and the City of

Toronto has recently opened new outdoor swimming pools and is planning to build even more outdoor swimming pools! And entry to all swimming pools and swim lessons are free! According to the City of Toronto’s 2014 Operating Budget, service levels for outdoor swimming pools are approximately 2.1 per 100,000 population. Toronto’s property taxes are the lowest among Ontario municipalities. It is impossible to understand why the City of Vancouver with the highest tax rate in BC is unable to provide more aquatic amenities for our growing population, and how the closure of so many aquatic facilities is permitted.

There is no information in the presentation slides pointing to the provision of more swimming lessons through new facilities. Lesson space is limited, and demand is high. Of all the places to take swimming lessons in Vancouver, Hillcrest is known by Park Board to be the hardest to get into. Closing the four indoor swimming pools would likely result in even less capacity for lessons at the new mega destination pool for swimming lessons as people would be driving from all over the city for lessons there.

If the new destination pool in Kitsilano is a replacement pool for the Vancouver Aquatic Centre, and Lord Byng, it will already be at capacity before factoring in all the displaced aquatic users. It will also mean the loss of special training equipment for competitive swimmers, and no public indoor swimming pools downtown.

A spa centre at the current site of the Vancouver Aquatic Centre does not seem adequate for an area comprised of high density apartment dwellers, many of whom are very active.

Closing the four community outdoor swimming pools has already stripped people of the opportunity for swim lessons in the summer when getting into the water is probably more inviting for most people, and when so many children are out of school and need more outdoor recreation opportunities.

Note that the disadvantages of the recommendations are not addressed. A proper study should discuss the both  advantages and disadvantages of each option.

There are no recommendations for using innovative green technologies to heat new swimming pools. You can make a cost effective solar heated pool if you have sufficient roof space that would provide the majority of heating on an outdoor pool (especially if you pair it with a pool cover) according to solar installation experts that we have consulted. Comox, Dawson Creek, Delta, Ladner, Richmond, Lytton, Lillooet, Cache Creek, Hudson’s Hope, Ashcroft, and Kamloops all have solar-heated outdoor pools. The funding for many of the solar heated pools was augmented by clean-energy grants from Fortis BC, and Eco Energy grants. Many municipal indoor swimming pools also have solar heating systems installed.



Here is a photo of Mount Pleasant Park taken on the afternoon of Sunday, August 27, 2017.  Note that the entire sun blasted area where the pool used to be is empty and no one is using that very dry space except for a few people with blow up pools!



The 2006-2008 Capital Plan Public Input Summary indicates that 23% of all speakers and 46% of all written comments received through public input were in support of the Mount Pleasant Pool replacement project, which was also the most popular option in the Park Board public consultation with 88% supporting this park feature over all others. Yet this site is not mentioned as an option in VanSplash. It was also raised as a high needs project in the VanPlay city-wide consultation.


We question whether it is a mistake to award yet another opportunity to the same architects to design a large overcrowded destination pool that will suck up most of the aquatic budget, while providing very little in the way of other new swimming amenities to many poorly served communities.


We are disappointed in the quality of research and data provided by a firm that is purportedly a top expert in the field of aquatic studies.


A great deal of effort has gone into making the report appear exciting while the actual recommendations are lacklustre and open to many misinterpretations by the public.


There is no recommendation for an outdoor swimming pool any time in the near future, if ever, depending on the outcome of the Fraser Lands Park studies.


We wonder if our elected Park Board will stand by their proclamations that Vancouver is lacking in outdoor swimming pools and that they will build them.





2011 Aquatic Reviews recommendations from HCMA:

Facilities and Infrastructure:

– Ongoing investment is needed in the 4 unique outdoor aquatic facilities (NB: there are in fact three unique outdoor aquatic facilities and this is stated in HCMA’s March 2016 Case Study on natural swimming pools!).

-Spray parks are preferable to wading pools due to regulations.

-Ongoing maintenance of aquatic infrastructure.

-Possible future aquatic redevelopment: Community pool in northeast sector (e.g. Britannia)

-Community pool on west side (e.g. Kerrisdale)

-Vancouver Aquatic Centre replacement (unique opportunity) .

-Explore opportunities to incorporate outdoor components into future indoor pool renewal.


Hiring the same consultants to do an aquatic study in 2016 has yielded essentially the same recommendations as their 2001 study and the 2011 study recommendations, listed above.


We have recently learned that a study was conducted in 2015 (we have not seen it) that identified the site at Mount Pleasant Community Park as unsuitable for an outdoor pool, citing the same outdated 2001 recommendations by HCMA that used cost statistics from a pool constructed in 1967 and made no effort to incorporate more efficient construction, mechanics, and energy sources that are available today.  In November, 2015, the Parks Commissioners added the possibility of building a replacement pool in Sunset Park to the motion adopting the Sunset Park Concept Plan, but that option is also missing from the VanSplash report, presumably for the same outdated reasons, since the 2001 HCMA report also recommended against rebuilding Sunset’s pool. The reasoning that Mount Pleasant, or Sunset, for that matter, is “not on a transit route”, apparently considers the two-blocks between either pool and Main Street to be an impediment.  However, both neighbourhoods have been directed to Hillcrest as an alternative, when that same Main Street bus route would be used by many to travel to Hillcrest!


We believe that the elected commissioners have the ability and responsibility for improving this unbearable situation for thousands of people who are landlocked and do not have access to outdoor swimming pools.


VanSplash is a bad deal for Vancouver.

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