On Wednesday, February 26, nearly 30 concerned residents and business owners attended a meeting at the Radium Hot Springs Centre, organized by Parks Canada, for an update on the hot springs pool closure.
This past fall, the pools were shut down from October 21 to December 20 for renovations. They opened briefly over the Christmas holidays, and then closed again on January 11 due to structural damage that was discovered during the renovations.
Parks Canada, the Radium Chamber of Commerce, Tourism Radium, and other stakeholders have been in close communication about the situation, but that has done little to comfort visitors who have come to the area only to discover the pools closed. Some hotels in Radium are reporting a 98 per cent vacancy rate, and staff find themselves on the front line for facing the frustration, disappointment and anger some visitors have upon learning the news.
Combined with the traffic circle construction planned for this year, the upcoming highway diversion, potential forest fires, conflict between B.C. and other provinces over the pipeline, and financial challenges for the energy sector affecting Alberta, some worry that the shut down will have long-term consequences for the town and that businesses may be unable to recover.
“Business owners are hurting and believe that their pain is partly as a result of the extended closures. People are feeling frustrated and helpless. It is a difficult situation for all,” said Clara Reinhardt, Radium’s mayor. “Business owners are sharing that this has been the slowest off season for them since the low after the 2008 slump. Local residents who participate in programs like Swim Club or Aquafit are also disappointed at losing the access to the pools.”
As one local business owner who wished to not be identified said, ‘It’s ridiculous that a federal heritage building has been neglected to a point where it is has to be shut down for safety.”
There were also complaints raised about how long road construction has been taking near the pools, why there is still no vendor in the restaurant space after years, and concerns that timelines keep being extended for closures. Some also called for better communication as they only heard about the meeting after reading an email from the Radium Hot Springs fire department.
Rick Kubian, who was born and raised in the Columbia Valley, is the field unit superintendent for Lake Louise, Yoho, and Kootenay National Park. He said he understands the importance of the pools to the area and sympathizes with local businesses.
“As tough and as difficult as this is, we need to work together. We can come out better as a community as a result,” he said. “This is an old heritage building, and not all problems can be anticipated – especially when you are dealing with water.”
The area affected is the wet hall – the long hallway between the change rooms and the pools where bathers make their way to and from the warm waters. While the floors were being re-tiled during the renovations, an engineer discovered that the concrete floor was disintegrating. The entire slab is in danger of collapsing. Beneath this slab is a basement filled with pipes and all the mechanical makings required for running the facility. It is a public safety risk, as well as a risk for the workers and contractors below.
According to a statement released by Parks Canada, the federal government has invested $9.5 million dollars at the historic pools facility. Once finished, the improvements will be the most extensive since the facility opened in 1951. They will reflect new building codes, reduce the environmental footprint by leveraging natural geothermal energy, and will significantly improve comfort and enjoyment for visitors. The renovation in the change rooms is 90 per cent complete, with the wet hall repairs expected to take another four to six weeks.
When the Pioneer asked about alternatives such as bringing in portable change stations and accessing the pools through other areas, Parks Canada provided a statement that said: “The limited space adjacent to the pools doesn’t safely allow for an adequate portable change room/washroom facility on-site. All options that would have allowed the pool to remain open were explored and none were found that would allow us to meet health and safety obligations for visitors and Parks Canada team members.”
At present, wooden frame supports are being built and installed to shore up the floor. Once this process is complete, pipes and components will be removed and demolition will begin to remove and then replace the floor.
Kubian assured the group that everything that could be done was being done, and that everyone was working very hard.
In the meantime, staff at the pools are being mostly redirected to other work. Some are taking additional training and certifications.
With this year being the centennial anniversary for the pools, the timing of the closure has been especially difficult. A number of spring events are planned, and Parks Canada welcomes ideas from the community on how to draw visitors back to the area. A marketing and recovery plan will be developed and implemented, and Parks Canada will continue to work closely with Tourism Radium and the Radium Chamber of Commerce to maximize the efforts.
Mayor Reinhardt said, “There has been a lot of focus on the negative aspects of the extended pool closures, but people have still been out enjoying snowshoeing, skating, skiing, indoor activities, festivals and much more over the winter. There is so much to do here in Radium and area, and I would remind people that we are very clearly and actively open for business.”
The Pleiades Spa and Wellness located at the pools remains open by appointment.
Parks Canada advised that updates will be posted on hotsprings.ca, and that they will have a staff member at the Radium Hot Springs Visitor Information Centre available to answer questions and suggest alternate activities in the area.