A report on the state of the Cache Creek pool — which has been closed for the past two seasons — paints a picture of a facility that operates at an annual deficit of $100,000, faces numerous challenges in terms of maintenance and upkeep, and would cost between $80,000 and $145,00 to repair to a state where it could safely reopen.
The 86-page report was prepared by Chief Administrative Officer Damian Couture and presented to council at their meeting on March 21. In addition to Couture’s assessment, the report contains emails, reports, and memos going back to 2002 detailing a variety of concerns and challenges, notably issues with the pool’s chlorination system.
Couture’s report states that the pool — built in 1973 — traditionally operated with a chlorine gas disinfection system. Although once popular in pool facilities, chlorine gas has fallen out of favour due to the hazards associated with it, and requires significant training in order to operate the system safely.
A report from 2016 detailed numerous challenges and safety issues associated with the use of chlorine at the pool, including the fact that the facility’s chlorine alarm monitor, purchased in 2012, had never been re-calibrated, despite a requirement to do so annually. The 2016 report also noted a leak in the chlorine line which appeared to have been there for “a long time. [Redacted] had told me that the red light on the outside door of the chlorine room had been randomly going on and off for two to three years.”
On Aug. 31, 2016 the alarm reader detected chlorine levels that exceeded the evacuation level, resulting in the evacuation of the pool and nearby park.
The village switched to the much safer calcium hypochlorite in 2018 and 2019, but that system did not meet the requirements of Interior Health. Calcium hypochlorite also increases the risk of issues caused by scale build-up, which is already an issue in Cache Creek due to the extreme hardness of the water there. An alternative, sodium hypochlorite, has “the potential to interact poorly with metal piping, an item that should not be in the system but has been observed by operators and is known to exist in at least some of the concrete components.
“Much of the plumbing is located below the pool itself,” the report continues. “With pipe systems that are original to the site and a water chemistry that is prone to leaving calcium deposits on the interior of piping, it is reasonable to speculate that an issue could occur that would be a significant cost to repair. Depending on the location, a leak fix has the potential to cost tens of thousands of dollars, and the community is already in financial trouble without this potential issue.”
Couture noted that the village was historically “heavily reliant” on revenue from the Cache Creek landfill, which closed in December 2016. “Tax and utility rates have seen sharp increases year over year to compensate for this lost income that was also subsidizing other community services.”
Between 2010 and 2019, the pool operated at an annual average deficit of $100,000 per year. While there is “no expectation” that the facility would be revenue neutral, the report notes that comparable sites see a final operating cost of $30,000 to $80,000 per year. Raising user fees significantly is not an option; the report points out that “if this facility were paid for solely through usage the price would be astronomical. Nobody would use it.”
In addition to losing the landfill revenue, Cache Creek experienced costly natural disasters in 2015, 2017, 2018, 2020, and 2021, each of which imposed a “significant burden” on the village’s resources and finances. Between 2015 and 2020, between 23 and 33 per cent of every dollar collected in taxes in Cache Creek was allocated to operating the pool.
The pool is only slightly above the water table during the lowest point of the year. As recently as the 2020 freshet, the water level has climbed to a point where most of the park was covered in water. This means that the pool must be kept full, with the water circulating, year-round, to prevent issues caused by hydrostatic pressure. “If not kept full, these forces have the potential to push in the sides of the pool or fill it with groundwater depending on the weather.”
Other issues identified in the report include a solar heating system that was installed in 2011 but is currently not in use due to a “critical failure many years ago that has not been repaired”; boilers that must be constantly monitored, as they are “likely to be the first point of failure”; a permit to backwash the filter system into the Bonaparte River that is no longer valid and will probably not be renewed, meaning the construction of a backwash holding tank and system; the need for a new backup primary pump; and numerous miscellaneous small repairs.
“A pool is not a revenue stream,” states the report, “it is a service to the people that pay for it through taxes. There are so many positives to a pool.”
Alternatives to repairing the current pool and continuing to operate it at a deficit of $100,00 per year include a new in-ground outdoor pool (estimated cost $750,000 to $1,250,000); a new indoor facility (up to $2,500,000); and a new splash park in place of a pool ($100,000 to $750,000, with a yearly operating cost of approximately $20,000).
Also suggested is an investment in transportation, in order to allow Cache Creek residents who do not drive to utilize the pool in Ashcroft, which would “assist with the long-term sustainability of that site.” A tentative cost of this service would be in the range of $10,000, depending on the plan.
The report concludes with a note that most of the options require a significant capital investment.
“With the amount of other sizable infrastructure projects that require immediate attention, these all seem out of reach… Community members must be conscious of the fact that we are low on reserves and have aging infrastructure that needs replacement. Whichever direction that is decided upon be it repair, replacement, or retirement will have implications for years to come on the residents of the community.”
After the presentation from Couture, council received the report for information without any questions or discussion, and there were no questions from the public.
The Journal asked when council would be making a decision regarding what is happening to the pool, and whether that would be in time for it to open this year. Mayor Santo Talarico said that council has started provisional budget discussions, with two more meetings in the next two weeks.
“We’ll see where that takes us,” he said. “We don’t know if we’re going to make it to when the pool is going to be open in May or not.”
The full report can be read as part of the agenda package for the March 21 meeting at https://bit.ly/37W0BQ9.