The Chilliwack Landing Leisure Centre when it first opened in 2002. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)

The Chilliwack Landing Leisure Centre when it first opened in 2002. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)

Chilliwack council doubles down awarding YMCA contract to run its leisure centres

Residents sent flurry of emails to council urging them to bring management in-house, to no avail

City council only briefly touched on the prospect of shifting to in-house management on Tuesday at city hall before voting unanimously to award the YMCA of Greater Vancouver the management contract for its leisure centres and the Rotary Pool.

A group of concerned residents had sent a flurry of emails to council before the vote, trying to convince them not to contract out, but in the end, there was no appetite on council to embrace the idea of the city managing the pool facilities.

Several citizens also showed up again for question period at the end of the council meeting, but in the end council stuck to its guns – and the YMCA.

RELATED: Council urged to switch to in-house management

City of Chilliwack officials had originally put out a request for qualifications for management and operations of the Cheam Leisure Centre, Chilliwack Landing Leisure Centre and the Rotary Pool. They received two bids, one from Canadian Recreation Excellence (Chilliwack) Corporation for $13,163,288, and the other from the YMCA of Greater Vancouver, for $10,027,777 by the June 15 closing, according to the Aug. 8 staff report.

City officials even went so far as to hire an independent consultant to estimate the in-house costs for the city to manage its own leisure centres and pools, and the figure they came up with was $13.5 million.

At the meeting, some council members noted they were reassured by the YMCA’s proven track record, operating in Chilliwack for more than 50 years, and running recreation facilities for other municipalities as well.

Coun. Chris Kloot underlined that Chilliwack was not unique in this staff shortage situation, and asked staff if the in-house option was supported if there would be adequate staff to run the pool operations.

The response from Ryan Mulligan, director of recreation and leisure was that: “We don’t have the capacity.”

Coun. Sue Knott said given staff shortage situation, even if the city ran the facilities, it would be in the same position as everyone else with too few lifeguards, and “would still not be able to offer swimming lessons that people want.”

It was Coun. Jeff Shields who made a point of acknowledging the residents who bombarded council with emails urging them to opt for in-house management: “I get the frustration. Hopefully no one thinks we swept this aside.”

Penalties could be applied if certain performance indicators are not met.

Coun. Harv Westeringh said he couldn’t get past the fact that the YMCA bid was $3 million lower than that of Recreation Excellence’s, and he supported the Y.

The fact is rec facilities are struggling right across Canada, Mayor Ken Popove pointed out.

But the “good news” was that he was told by staff that they had hired 19 new lifeguards since April.

“Training to become a lifeguard is a serious investment of time and money, and while there is no quick-fix for this issue, we are excited about the YMCA’s vision for these facilities and their track record of success,” Popove said.

Pandemic restrictions caused challenges for municipal recreation services leading to limited training and recertification opportunities for lifeguards, restricted hours, and staff seeking stable employment elsewhere during the pandemic, have all contributed to lifeguard and swim instructor shortages across Canada.

Many critics said they worried YMCA pricing was too expensive for families but city officials pointed out that city officials, not YMCA operators, will set the rates for drop-in and memberships. That means there will be no change in rates under the new YMCA management.

After a transition period the YMCA is expected to take over operations in mid-September 2022, with the expectation that lifeguards will be paid the increased wages of $22 per hour, which was increased from just under $16 per hour.

RELATED: Wage hikes approved for Chilliwack lifeguards

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