When it comes to Leg renos, province plans to keep you wading

After months of confusing signals that led many to fear late-night pool parties at the Legislature could be going down the drain, the province says visitors will still be able to wade in new pools that will replace the current ones in 2013.

Concerns had been raised in the Legislature earlier this year about the future of the pools, and publicity about renovations for the Legislature’s 100th anniversary had caused some to worry the popular water features would be replaced only with splash decks.

Renovation plans for the area immediately north of the pools include a splash deck with 100 spouting jets that will be built on top of the underground parkade currently under construction next to the former Federal Building. In winter, the deck will be used as a skating rink.

Splash decks are popular with families who are on the grounds in the daytime. And since they don’t have standing water, operators like them because they don’t need chlorine.

But late night visitors to the Legislature began to wonder, especially when there were rumblings the wading pools would close, about whether there would be anything to do at the grounds if the fountains on the  splash deck were switched off when it got dark.

Unlike city parks, the Legislature grounds don’t close at night, meaning friends and couples can get their feet wet without being hassled by the security guards.

“We got in the pool. We were wearing our jeans just dancing,” says Michael Mulligan, 23, who went wading at the Legislature last Sunday night after a party with his Mountain Equipment Co-op co-workers wrapped up early.

Mulligan says one of their group had a bike with a stereo system and coloured lights attached to it. At one point a security guard on a bicycle rode up to them, but Mulligan says the guard simply joked with the owner of the stereo bike that he’d like to swap vehicles.

From 10:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. the revellers took turns as d.j.s with their iPods and danced in the knee-deep water.

“It was an evening of sustained bliss,” Mulligan says.

Waders weren’t always welcome in the pools. Originally meant only for decoration when they opened in the early 1980s, anyone who stepped in them was immediately ordered out.

The province eventually relented, and now the pools are the closest thing Edmonton has to a beach. On hot summer days the area is packed with young families, preening teenagers and government workers enjoying their lunch breaks.

But uncertainty about the future of wading at the Legislature bubbled when artist renderings of the renovations on the government’s website couldn’t be enlarged enough to see what’s intended for the older pools.

On April 13, 2011, St. Albert MLA Ken Allred asked Infrastructure Minister Ray Danyluk in Question Period whether it was correct that the Reflecting

Pool, which is the name for the large, rectangular pool closest to the Legislature, was scheduled for removal. Danyluk responded that while there were challenges to the mechanical operation of the pool, it would remain open for the rest of the year.

The answer satisfied Allred, who is a Tory caucus colleague of Danyluk’s, but the response didn’t sit well with Speaker Ken Kowalski, who took the

unusual step of asking Allred to press Danyluk for a further explanation of the pool’s future beyond 2011. (Kowalksi later apologized to the members, stating it was the first time in 14 years he had interjected in a question.)

Danyluk said that there were no plans to permanently close the wading pools and he noted that additional water features were being created to the north. But his response left some people wondering what the wading pools might be replaced with.

“We do have to look at the maintenance of the Reflecting Pool, so I don’t want to say this is going to be open forever because we need to upgrade what this pool is,” Danyluk stated in the Legislature.

“When the pool started to be used as a wading pool, what happened is that we had to add chlorine. The chlorine is not very conductive to the infrastructure, so we have to look at upgrading it or maintaining it.”

An Edmonton Journal article on the Capital Boulevard renovations earlier this summer stated that the Reflecting Pool would be replaced with another pool for wading, but some online versions of the story simply said the pool would close, and didn’t elaborate further.

Alberta Infrastructure spokesperson Tracy Larsen said earlier this week that while the exact plans for the pools haven’t been made yet, the intention is that waders will be welcome in whatever replaces the Reflecting Pool.

“The pool that’s closest to the Legislature will be replaced but it will remain a wading pool,” says Larsen, noting work on the pools will begin at the end of 2012.

Larsen says the problem with the existing pools is they were built as ornaments, so their filtration systems weren’t designed to handle the large amounts of chlorine needed to keep the water safe for wading.

Adapting the pools with new filtration systems was deemed to expensive, Larsen says, so the decision was made to replace them.

The City of Edmonton, according to its Outdoor Aquatic Strategy 2008-2017, has been replacing its wading pools with splash decks since 2005, in part due to the high cost of upgrading wading pools to meet the Alberta Pool Standards Act, which was adopted in 2006.

Larsen admits the Reflecting Pool and the wading pool to the north do not meet the water standards set out in the Act. She says, however, an exemption has been granted because acceptable water quality is maintained with other methods, such as chlorine.

The Act stipulates that recirculation in a wading pool must take place every two hours. However, it states authorities can allow a pool to operate with a lower recirculation rate if microbiological standards are being maintained.

The purpose of the recirculation standards, the Act says, is to maintain safe microbiological while also keeping chlorine residuals to a minimum.

Larsen says there has been discussion of replacing the Reflecting Pool with a type of wading pool that appears as though it doesn’t have an edge.

Similar pools exist in Dubai, she says.

She says the dome fountain will also be replaced or upgraded.

“The plan is to open the Legislature grounds further, to make it really a destination,” Larsen says.

For Mulligan and other visitors to the Legislature, the wading pool is a tradition. He went on picnics there growing up, and says the after-hours activities are uniquely Edmonton.

“I couldn’t think of any place you could do that at night,” Mulligan says.