COLUMN: Surrey has to give its athletes reason to stay

User groups are upset that concerns over a proposed pool in Grandview Heights have not been acknowledged.

In journalism, reporters tend to have a habit of becoming – or trying to become – instant experts.

It’s the nature of the business. Editor wants 16 inches of type – editorial-department speak for about 600 words – on Topic X, and you don’t have a lick of knowledge about it? Well, get Googling, my friend, and make some calls, because deadline isn’t pushed back when you don’t have the answers.

But there are other times, too, where rather than become the expert yourself, it’s in your best interest to find someone who is. And listen to them.

That’s why I take them at their word when local aquatic groups – some members of which have competed at the Olympic Games – tell me that the City of Surrey’s planned pool in Grandview Heights, as currently configured, isn’t going to work.

Oh, sure, it’ll be a hole in the ground, and that hole will be filled with water, and people can swim in it, but that’s about it.

National meets? International competitions? Forget about it, they insist.

What irks these users – and baffles me – is the city’s lack of interest in what they have to say. Yes, there were open houses and delegations and countless emails – many cc’d to my inbox – sent back and forth between staff members and the swimmers and divers, but for what?

Advice be damned, the city is anchored to its original plan, which currently includes two 50-metre pools – one in Grandview and one in Guildford – which, it is hoped, will serve the needs of the community. Construction is set to begin next year.

I know some opponents have been rather loud in voicing their displeasure with the plan. They’ve been persistent and maybe even a thorn in the side of city staff – like I said, I’ve seen the emails – but despite the bluster, there also exists the possibility that they’re right.

In theory, the current project still would ease the pressure in the south-end of town, where finding available pool time at either Fleetwood’s Leisure Centre, also a 50m pool, or the 37.5m South Surrey Indoor Pool is – according to the ones who use them – a fool’s errand.

The problem, the user groups contend, is that any new pool needs enough space for all groups to train simultaneously, which is next to impossible in 50 metres or less. And competitions, too, demand cool-down and warm-up space in addition to 50m lanes.

Surrey Coun. Tom Gill says that there is room for future expansion, and in the event a competition needs more space in the meantime, temporary pools can be set up in the parking lot.

I find it hard to believe that Surrey would win a bid for national swim championships when its proposal includes having the gold-medallist do warm-up laps next to a Volvo, but I digress…

Gill, no doubt, has the city’s best interests in mind. And staff and council, more than most, have a firm grasp on the budget and what can and cannot be built within tight financial guidelines.

So it’s easy to suggest a city build the world’s greatest anything, but another entirely to find money to make it work.

But surely, somewhere between the shallow and deep ends, a compromise can be reached and differences put aside for the good of the community – and for a generation of young local athletes who will otherwise grow up training beyond city limits.

If the decision to ignore the experts is driven by money, so be it.

But if it’s simply stubbornness, well, get used to seeing our city’s top athletes go elsewhere.

In fact, two such athletes – swimmers Richard Weinberger and Hilary Caldwell – are set to compete at the Summer Olympics in London, which begin Friday.

Both now live and train in Victoria.

Where the pool is.

Nick Greenizan is a reporter at the Peace Arch News.

Surrey North Delta Leader

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