By Steve Hubrecht

The federal government last week announced some big spending on the Radium Hot Springs pools.

The iconic pools were the subject of local grumbling (and a Pioneer news report) a month ago when officials reminded the public that entry fees for the pools would double beginning on January 1 this year. 

At the time, Parks Canada chief operating officer for Canadian Rockies Hot Springs, Julian England, had explained that Parks Canada had so far, spent $15 million on upgrading the Radium pools, and that more renovations were on the way in the future. 

That future, as it turns out, has arrived quite quickly, with the Canadian Ministry of Environment and Climate Change outlining on Wednesday, Jan. 18 that it will spend a further $13 million restoring the pools. When the Pioneer spoke with England again right after the announcement, contractors were already on site at the pools, beginning preparations for the work.

The money is meant to help Parks Canada conserve the heritage value of the pools, while improving visitor experience, England told the Pioneer. 

The upgrades that the money will go to include installing culverts under the main hot pools building (to prevent the foundation from eroding), new concrete work on the cool pool and on a new accessible lift.

“The building actually has a creek (Sinclair Creek) that runs right under it, as well as under the hot pools deck,” said England. “That’s been great for the last 70 years, but now the creek is starting to erode the building foundations. When it was built, there was no code in place for concrete structures like the building… We had to look at how to stop the erosion. The best way is contain the creek under the building into a culvert, so that it does not affect the foundation.”

The culvert has been pre-fabricated and the sections will be lowered down and then assembled under the building.  Once in place, the culvert will change the water flow and dynamics of the creek, and by preventing erosion, will also help protect fish habitat along the creek, particularly where the water exits the building. There will also be some habitat improvements for rubber boas, a type of snake that is a species-at-risk, and which lives near the hot pools.

“They are a totally harmless snake and they do hang out, sometimes right on the pool decks, when it’s quiet,” said England.

Extensive repairs to the concrete in the cool pool will also be undertaken.

“It’s also showing its age,” said England, adding that corrosion from the hot mineral water is the main culprit and that additionally, the lining of the cool pool “is near the end of its life”.

Since the concrete is getting re-done, Parks Canada will take the opportunity to modernize the pool a bit. The water surface level will be raised so that is equal to the cool pool deck and a surface-level gutter system installed, eliminating the ‘lip’ of concrete that juts up from the current cool pool surface. Some kids love to literally hang on this lip, but levelling it off will make it far easier for lifeguards to do rescues, and for swimmers to enter and exit the pool.

“This will make the pool calmer,” noted England, since the walls formed by the lip bounce waves created by simmers back into the pool.

“It’s perhaps not a big deal for many pool users, but it is a big deal for competitive swimmers,” he said. “Surface level pools are known to be ‘quicker’ for swimmers (because of the lack of reflected waves). It will be interesting to see if the Columbia Valley Swim Club (the Otters) set some new record times.”

Parks Canada will also be replacing its current accessible lift (used by those with mobility challenges) “with a more modern, more effective lift,” added England.

The renovations mean the cool pool will be closed for about three months, starting on Jan. 30. The hot pool will be open through the upgrades, although England noted “there may be some construction noise”.

The upgrades haven been two years in planning and work is set to start immediately.