Langley Township’s Walnut Grove and W.C. Blair’s pools will both be re-opened, thanks to an infusion of cash from the federal government to help municipalities struggling with COVID-19 costs.
In October, the council voted to re-open just W.C. Blair for the near future, because of the high cost of opening pools right now when occupancy is strictly limited. Without a large number of paying patrons, re-opening both pools could have caused a 3.19 per cent tax increase.
“The situation has changed somewhat in the last week,” said Councillor Bob Long at Monday afternoon’s council meeting.
Re-opening was largely a funding issue, Long noted, but the Township is now getting a significant cash infusion from the federal goverment of $7.6 million.
The money comes from the Safe Restart Agreement, a federal pool of funding distributed via the province.
Council considered re-opening Walnut Grove sooner rather than later, but Coun. Margaret Kunst suggested holding off on Walnut Grove until the start of January, due to uncertainty about the pandemic.
There was a significant amount of debate as councillors worried about whether facilities were opening up too early amid rising COVID rates, or whether it was important to give people an opportunity for safely distanced physical activity.
Kristi McIntosh, a parent and volunteer at the Langley Olympians Swim Club (LOSC), welcomed the decision.
“It’s open just in the nick of time, for Olympic trials training,” McIntosh commented.
“We’re happy and we just hope that [reopening the pool] continues to be the plan, going forward.”
McIntosh has argued that pools “continue to be viewed as extremely safe places [in a pandemic] as physical distancing can be maintained and the presence of chlorine decreases transmission.”
In March, LOSC swimmers lost their practice places at the Walnut Grove and W.C. Blair indoor pools, when they were ordered closed as part of the COVID-19 lockdown.
Swimmers with the club have been making do with outdoor practices at the Aldergrove pool, which lacks competition-length lanes, as does the WC Blair pool, which was recently reopened by the Township.
The debate was part of an update on the re-opening plans for the W.C. Blair pool.
“We’re in a bit of a challenge right now,” Township administrator Mark Bakken told the council, noting that the plans had been made before provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry imposed two weeks of additional restrictions last Saturday.
“What are you recommending?” asked Coun. Steve Ferugson.
Bakken and Mayor Jack Froese said that staff will continue to work towards re-openings, but will have to take into account the new rules.
“The process forward can change very quickly,” Bakken said.
Councillors Kim Richter and David Davis voted against the re-opening schedule.