BEYOND THE HEADLINES: A positive move forward

Columnist Richard Rolke provides his thoughts on renovating the Vernon Recreation Complex

Residents of Vernon had vision back in the mid-1960s when the recreation complex opened its doors.

The facility had a modern, indoor swimming pool as well as a gymnasium and an auditorium to host local events and top travelling performers.

Flash forward to the present and while the auditorium has recently gone through an upgrade and the pool evolved into an aquatic centre 25 years ago, the rec complex lobby is virtually unchanged.

“For the most part, the look and feel are circa 1966,” said Doug Ross, recreation services director.

That’s why the green light has been given to a $1.3 million facelift that will see renovation to the entrance area and the main pedestrian bridge. It will include an outdoor lounge and a concession.

“We want to create a lively people place,” said Ross.

And there’s no question something needs to be done.

Presently, anyone waiting for their kids’ activities to wrap up must hang around a cavernous lobby almost big enough for ballroom dancing. A couple of benches provide little comfort and you can only read the bulletin board so many times.

Now contemplate catching a few rays out on the patio while your children are learning to swim or visiting with friends over a coffee after drop-in volleyball. It will be an inviting place where people want to linger instead of packing up their wet towels and heading home.

The concession will also make rental of the auditorium more attractive for conferences or special events as catering will now exist on site, while the food kiosk can feed hungry crowds during Kokanee Swim Club meets. Increased bookings help reduce the taxpayer subsidy required to keep the complex operating.

There will be those who question such an expenditure when there has been concern about the aquatic centre’s ventilation/air quality in recent years. But consider that temperature and humidity controls have been improved around the lap pool, while a plan is underway for similar enhancements to the leisure pool (there are two different systems in the structure).

“The announced bridge, entrance and lobby project and its funding will not impact recreation services tackling other major maintenance projects like the leisure pool air handling moving forward,” said Ross.

Rec complex renos may also be questioned when some residents are convinced there should be a 50-metre swimming pool in Vernon. However, an Olympic-size pool would require significant study to determine the construction cost, operating cost and if there is sufficient demand to warrant such a facility.

While that long-term process takes place, there is still a need for Vernon to maintain its infrastructure, and just like roads or sewer lines, recreational amenities require attention.

Some have suggested that a completely brand new rec complex should be constructed, but will a big ticket item proceed when there is already reluctance about spending money on the master water plan, an art gallery or a new ice sheet?

Yes, parts of the current recreation complex are old and tired, and have seen better days.

But an investment of $1.3 million could go a long ways towards rejuvenating a facility that is centrally located to downtown, hotels, restaurants and the Performing Arts Centre, and hosts major draws like Creative Chaos.

It’s time to embrace the vision of the 1960s and ensure that a landmark recreational complex continues to play an active role well into the future.