Keeping afloat on Radium hot springs renovations

Update on construction at the local pool

Renovations continue as the Radium hot springs, with Parks Canada anticipating final completion of the overhaul by 2020.

In December, the temporary ramp was removed thanks to the new wheelchair-accessible ramp. The ramp has built-in heating powered through the cool pool runoff.

“We’re really pleased with the snow-melt system,” says Julian England, Parks Canada chief operating officer for the Canadian Rockies hot springs. “It’s fantastic.”

Next up is the change rooms, scheduled for a complete upgrade this spring.

“It’s time they were overhauled,” he says, elaborating it will be a complete gutting and rebuilding of the change rooms that have not seen a renovation since the 1990s. Mr. England adds there is likely to be a short closure when that happens, though they will not have more details until the work is contracted out. Right now, Parks Canada is anticipating a late spring start for that particular project.

The ramp and change rooms are part of a $6.1 million investment by Parks to upgrade the aging infrastructure at the pool, which sees an average of 250,000 visitors per year from the local area, across Canada, and around the world.

“There is a long-term plan to rehabilitate the site. That long-term plan really starts from the fabric of the building,” says Mr. England.

Mechanical work has already been done, including replacing much of the piping, pumps, as well as a special filter system. When upgrading the parapets, crews were

able to install built-in lighting that aids in keeping the skies dark while enhancing the safety for visitors by putting light directly where it is needed.

Redoing the roof membrane fixed some pesky leaks, while new decking brings the pool in line with its historic beginnings. The original roof decks were red, and designed to match the red wall in the cliff high above the pools. The recent renovation of the new roof decks returned the decking to the red colour, “to restore this interplay between the colours in the local geology and the facility,” explains Mr. England.

Parks Canada faces an added element of complexity when planning and undertaking renovations at the pool site. The building, called the ‘aquacourt’ in historical records, is a federal heritage building because of its historical associations as well as its architectural and environmental values. According to the federal registry, “The Aquacourt is associated with spa development within Canada’s National Parks. It was the first major post-war building project in the western parks. It contributed to the historical development of the region when it gained international reputation as a spa destination. The Aquacourt’s construction provided the initial impetus for the establishment of the townsite at the Radium Hot Springs, and remained the primary attraction within the Kootenay National Park. The townsite was completely redeveloped over a 20-year period beginning in the early 1950s in response to highway reconstruction and increased Aquacourt visitation.”

What that means in practical terms is renovations need to keep the aesthetics of the building intact.

“It means we need to think hard about the impact on the building, and we have to involve the heritage building people,” explains Mr. England.

The $6.1 million project will not check off the entire list of renovations Mr. England would like to see at the historic local amenity. But he says it will make the building watertight, the exterior upgraded, and will allow the pool to continue much as it always has, as a Canadian gem worth preserving. He has been conscious of how the money is spent, and is working hard to ensure it stretches as far as possible through this renovation project.

“It’s really important to me that we deliver value to Canadians,” says Mr. England.

Pool fees

Many pool users may not be aware that the pool is actually funded from the revenue generated at the site. Staff time, general maintenance and upkeep do not come from federal coffers, but from the fees collected upon entry, reports Mr. England. Staff also do not have the power to change fees to accommodate funding needs. Fee changes require permission from parliament.

“Going into a deficit is not an option for me,” Mr. England says.

As the pool is run as a business, there are sometimes hard decisions that need to be made to keep the business afloat. Mr. England says three years ago, they adjusted times to help manage expenses. They carefully tracked visitor times and when the people were coming, and changed the opening times to provide optimal service for the most amount of people. They extended weekend opening times throughout the winter, but it did mean a reduction in hours during weekdays.

“We have definitely seen an increase in visitation at weekends, which we were hoping to see,” says Mr. England.

Fees for the hot springs have not been raised since 2003. However, a new piece of legislation (the Service Fees Act) will begin to adjust fees to match the consumer price index, with the first fee adjustment scheduled for January 1st, 2020. For Radium’s pool, that fee will work out to less than 20 cents per adult entry.

Parks Canada is seeking feedback about how fees are set across Canada. The engagement will explore three core principles of Parks Canada’s approach to pricing, according to the website: reasonable cost recovery for quality services, balancing public and private benefit, and aligning fees with market prices.

“That feedback will help inform us about future pricing decisions,” explains Mr. England. He urges people to fill out the survey to add their input to the discussion. The outcome of the consultation will go to the federal government. This survey ends February 15th. Visit https://www.parkscanadaconsultations.ca to give your feedback.

Parks Canada is also seeking public input to help guide Parks Canada priorities. Called ‘Let’s Talk Mountain Parks’, the national agency is preapring new management plans for the mountain national parks and is also seeking public feedback. Visit https://www.letstalkmountainparks.ca/ for more.

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