Marking 20 years
of bold journalism,
reader supported.
News
Municipal Politics
Urban Planning

Can Kits Pool Really Be Saved This Summer?

The drained oasis is a symbol of Vancouver’s crumbling infrastructure. Mayor Sim, aided by a mining CEO, vows a fast August fix.

Jen St. Denis 8 Jul 2024The Tyee

Jen St. Denis is a reporter with The Tyee covering civic issues. Find her on X @JenStDen.

At this time of year, Kitsilano Pool should be filled with shrieking kids and swimmers turning laps under the summer sun.

Instead, shells discarded by seagulls crunch underfoot. A skid-steer loader sits on the pool bed, near squares of dug-up concrete.

The pool was severely damaged by surging sea water during a 2022 winter storm. The concrete blocks that make up the bottom of the pool were tossed around by the water, creating fissures that could be only partially fixed.

While the pool was open in the summers of 2022 and 2023, the damaged structure was leaking 30,000 litres every hour. This year, the pool was supposed to be closed all summer. Until, that is, Mayor Ken Sim announced that it would open on Aug. 7 after all. Sim said the decision had been made after he had called in Jeff Stibbard, a mining engineer who previously helped the city reassess the stalled Stanley Park train.

Stibbard is the founder and CEO of JDS Energy and Mining, a Vancouver-based mining engineering firm that also has offices in Kelowna and Mexico. According to the company’s website, he’s been involved in “leading the development and operation of” several diamond mines and Alberta oilsands projects.

Stibbard offered his expertise to the city at no cost, according to Sim. Sim said turning to the private sector for pro bono work helps speed up the process.

Stibbard did not respond to a request for comment emailed to his company.

The 45-year-old Kitsilano Pool has become a symbol for Vancouver’s aging infrastructure, and a key battleground over Sim’s approach to bring in private donors, sponsors and experts to fund recreation sites and fix what’s broken. Sim has also pledged to end the elected park board, saying it’s inefficient to have a separate elected body to oversee parks in Vancouver.

Brennan Bastyovanszky is a park board commissioner who ran with Sim’s A Better City party, but he and two other ABC commissioners now sit as independents after Sim announced his intention to get rid of the park board last December.

At Kitsilano Pool on Friday, Bastyovanszky said he wasn’t sure what to make of the mayor’s announcement. Like many Vancouverites, Bastyovanszky frequently uses the oceanside pool and he’s happy that Sim and city councillors are focusing on repairing it.

“I’m still not convinced it will be sorted out by August. No new information has been provided to the board,” Bastyovanszky said.

“We got a memo about what needs to be done and it’s pretty massive. They’ve got to dig up the ground; they haven’t even finished the initial assessment.”

An outdoor pool sits empty, with a handful of construction workers visible within it. The downtown Vancouver skyline can be seen in the background.
Restoring Kits pool is a ‘pretty massive’ job that includes digging up pipes and installing a new pool liner, says independent park board commissioner Brennan Bastyovanszky. ‘We have no idea how long it’s going to take.’ Photo for The Tyee by Jen St. Denis.

According to the materials he’s seen, Bastyovanszky said the repairs involve digging up pipes, replacing large swaths of concrete and putting down a new pool liner.

“We have no idea how long it’s going to take because they haven’t finished doing the assessment yet.”

While Sim has taken aim at the elected park board for problems with aging infrastructure, Bastyovanszky pointed the finger back at the city. Since 2009, pools, ice rinks and community centres have been managed by the city’s real estate, environment and facilities management department instead of by park board staff. According to a report Bastyovanszky shared with The Tyee, the city now has $347 million worth of deferred maintenance for the facilities it’s responsible for.

At a press conference on Friday, Sim said he didn’t know the exact details of the expertise he said Stibbard — as well as an unrelated construction firm, Scott Construction — had provided, but he said his administration is always open to “a second set of eyes.”

Six people stand behind a portable podium giving a press conference inside the empty Kitsilano Pool. A blue sign on the podium says 'Kits Pool Back for the Summer.'
Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim, flanked by city councillors at Kitsilano Pool on July 5, defends seeking private donors and sponsors to tackle eroding infrastructure. Photo for The Tyee by Jen St. Denis.

Matthew Pel, manager of capital maintenance with the city, said staff are still doing their investigation of what is needed to repair the pool.

“We don’t know the full story yet,” he said. “But we do know there is damage to the sub-slab plumbing system that needs to be repaired, some of the expansion joints, even some of the pool base.”

Pel said the team is prioritizing the repairs that will allow the pool to open this summer.

Sim took the opportunity to double down on his commitment to seek funding from donors and sponsors, floating again the possibility of selling naming rights to different facilities. He said that option is preferable to continuing to raise property taxes.

Bastyovanszky said he’s concerned that lower-income neighbourhoods like Grandview-Woodland, the West End and Strathcona are losing out when it comes to recreation investment.

In a recent update to capital spending, city staff are recommending that $16.3 million in funds earmarked for various parks and recreation infrastructure be cut “to reflect the city’s fiscal reality.” According to the staff report, those financial challenges include supply chain issues, high inflation and a tight labour market.

Asked how he would address income disparity among different Vancouver neighbourhoods when it comes to fundraising for recreation facilities, Sim said he’s heard from many Vancouverites that they want to donate money to specific sites.

“We’ve had a lot of Vancouverites from all over the city who want to contribute to their local parks and community centres,” Sim said. “I think the big challenge we’ve had in the past is that it all goes into one general fund.”

Bastyovanszky said he’s concerned about the ability of all Vancouver residents to have equitable access to pools, sports fields and parks.

“The park board has strategies that ensure equity and accessibility, and it’s how things are designed but also where they’re implemented,” he said.

“The attitude from council so far is that they know best on how to allocate fairly.”  [Tyee]

  • Share:

Get The Tyee's Daily Catch, our free daily newsletter.

Tyee Commenting Guidelines

Comments that violate guidelines risk being deleted, and violations may result in a temporary or permanent user ban. Maintain the spirit of good conversation to stay in the discussion and be patient with moderators. Comments are reviewed regularly but not in real time.

Do:

  • Be thoughtful about how your words may affect the communities you are addressing. Language matters
  • Keep comments under 250 words
  • Challenge arguments, not commenters
  • Flag trolls and guideline violations
  • Treat all with respect and curiosity, learn from differences of opinion
  • Verify facts, debunk rumours, point out logical fallacies
  • Add context and background
  • Note typos and reporting blind spots
  • Stay on topic

Do not:

  • Use sexist, classist, racist, homophobic or transphobic language
  • Ridicule, misgender, bully, threaten, name call, troll or wish harm on others or justify violence
  • Personally attack authors, contributors or members of the general public
  • Spread misinformation or perpetuate conspiracies
  • Libel, defame or publish falsehoods
  • Attempt to guess other commenters’ real-life identities
  • Post links without providing context

Most Popular

Most Commented

Most Emailed

LATEST STORIES

The Barometer

Will the BC Conservatives’ Surge Last?

Take this week's poll