The South Surrey indoor pool has been open for nearly six months following a two-and-a-half-year closure, and while many area residents are glad to be able to use it again, the fact that it is still only open limited days and hours is raising questions among pool users.
The facility, located at 14655 17 Ave. in Surrey, currently only operates for limited hours Monday through Thursday (8 a.m. to noon and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.) and not at all on Fridays, Saturdays, or Sundays.
It was one of the last pools in the area to reopen after facilities all closed down in the spring of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, re-opening on Sept. 20, 2022.
The first pool facility to reopen in Surrey was the Surrey Sport and Leisure Complex in Fleetwood, in October of 2020.
South Surrey’s Grandview Heights Aquatic Centre, at 16855 24 Ave., reopened in February of 2021.
The city cited a staffing shortage for the ongoing South Surrey pool closure in 2021, and the pool’s website states it is open “with limited activities in a phased approach,” telling the public “we appreciate your patience and understanding while returning to operations.”
The continued closure of the pool drew sharp criticism from pool patrons and politicians alike, with Surrey Coun. Linda Annis repeatedly blaming the closure on then-mayor Doug McCallum and cost overruns associated with the Surrey Police transition.
Now, however, with the pandemic in the rearview mirror and some pools being open since late 2020, pool users in South Surrey are wondering why they still have such limited use of the facility.
The Grandview Heights pool facility is always extremely busy and, when they host a swim or dive meet on a weekend, it means other swim clubs or teams must go without the much-needed pool space, as the South Surrey pool is not open on Fridays, Saturdays or Sundays.
“We have a really good relationship with the people at Grandview and we feel grateful for what we have – we know we’re in competition with a lot of other groups,” said White Rock Wave president Linda Stanley Wilson, who noted how packed the Grandview Heights facility always is.
“Every time I walk into Grandview Heights I cannot believe how crazy it is with the number of people… it’s just pretty crazy.”
It makes her wonder if the city really is moving as fast as they can to open the South Surrey indoor pool to its original hours.
“It just doesn’t feel like it, and I know that would alleviate some of the problems, not just with our group, but with the public and seniors, too.”
White Rock Wave recently had two Sunday sessions cancelled for their allocated practice time and space, as there were swim meets happening at the Grandview facility.
Other club members – head coach Craig Slater and team registrar Heike Beer booth noted, like Stanley Wilson, that they are grateful for the time they get, but the lack of pool space means they can’t take more people from their waiting list, and that competition is still fierce for any South Surrey pool time.
Some swim club members are even leaving for other cities where there aren’t so many issues getting pool time, Stanley Wilson said.
“We’ve lost some members who have decided to go to Delta. Sungod is open without the same issues – some of our members have actually joined that team,” she noted.
With a degree in physical education and as an avid proponent of exercise, especially for people with limited movement opportunities, where the aquatic environment is ideal, Stanley Wilson doesn’t understand why staffing is still an issue.
“Lifeguarding pays well. There was COVID – I get it – but now we’re up to speed… I’m not really sure what the issue is.”
Jy Lawrence, head coach of the Pacific Sea Wolves, said she is also grateful for the time and space that her 350-member club gets at the South Surrey indoor pool, but also noted the lack of lifeguards “is what they’ve been saying since Grandview re-opened.”
“The chaos that is Grandview – it’s a great pool for the older kids who can differentiate and focus, but it isn’t the ideal place for our development,” Lawrence said.
She misses the Friday nights at the South Surrey indoor pool, where they would sometimes have pizza parties and parents would come and they could interact with the community.
“We need to see it open Fridays and Saturdays… really just getting us back to the usage we had pre-COVID. I recognize it was a COVID situation initially, but that was … three years ago.”
Although Peace Arch News requested an interview with city parks and recreation staff, it was not granted.
Instead, the city sent an email statement that once again attributed the ongoing limited operation hours of the South Surrey indoor pool to a shortage of staff.
“The City of Surrey, like municipalities across B.C. and Canada, is experiencing a shortage of swim instructors and lifeguards that arose out of the COVID-19 pandemic response. This shortage has resulted in impacts to operating hours at our facilities and the delivery of swim lessons to the community,” the statement said.
“Four of the City’s five aquatic facilities are currently operating with near full hours of operation, including the Grandview Heights Aquatic Centre, a full-service facility offering lane swimming, leisure swimming, sport opportunities, diving and heated features.”
The statement said the city has prioritized recruitment and training of lifeguard and swim instructors and noted the city hired 101 additional aquatic staff in 2022, which resulted in an increase in swim lessons offered this season.
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