Martin C. Barry
While the City of Laval recently announced yet another postponement in its longstanding plans to build an Aquatic Complex, the history of the project dates back much further and is characterized by repeated delays and uncertainty over completing the project.
Former Sir Wilfrid Laurier School Board chairman Steve Bletas says he can remember talk of the Aquatic Complex project taking place between political players from the various levels of government in Laval as early as 2009.
More than a decade ago, according to Bletas, the federal and provincial governments were expressing willingness to work with the City of Laval on the project.
Along with that, he recalls, discussions were also underway in an attempt to get the SWLSB to become involved in the day-to-day operation of the Aquatic Complex – an offer that the SWLSB declined.
While Bletas finds the delay in getting the project completed frustrating not only to himself but also to many others, he said he could understand what the Demers administration probably has in mind.
He suggested that the Demers administration, which probably remains sensitive about the possibility of corruption within municipal institutions given Laval’s relatively recent past, finds it preferable to endure the negative publicity from repeated completion delays, to the alternative which would be massively inflated contract costs and estimate overruns. “You want to make sure that everything is above board and nothing is hidden,” he said.
As former Laval mayor Gilles Vaillancourt was setting the wheels in motion for the eventual construction of Place Bell (although he was turfed from office before it started), the Aquatic Complex was already being talked about as Laval’s next major project after Place Bell.
With the Place Bell project taken over by the Demers administration following their arrival in office in 2013, Place Bell opened in 2017 after three years construction.
The City of Laval launched the architectural competition for the aquatic complex in 2016. Following a rigorous selection process, four finalists were chosen who made public presentations before a jury.
In January 2017, Mayor Marc Demers announced the winner of the competition held to produce a design for the future Laval Aquatic Complex.
A consortium was chosen for the building to be located on Terry Fox Ave. near the Cosmodôme. The corporation would be responsible for all planning and specifications for the building itself, as well as supervision of construction which was expected to be completed by 2020.
In all, 17 proposals were received and analyzed. A selection jury was appointed by the city. Sitting on the jury were Olympic champion diver Alexandre Despatie, as well as an urban planner, a building engineer and architects.
The building, initially estimated at $61.1 million, would have three pools, including one for swimming, another for diving and a third for recreational use. Pemanently-installed bleachers would accommodate 700 people, while an additional 500 temprary seating spaces would be made available for major events.
While the jury was said to be particularly impressed by the circular shape of the building, that circular shape is said today to be one of the factors responsible for the most recent delay, because contractors aren’t used to building a project designed along unconventional lines.
Although the start of construction was scheduled to begin sometime in 2018 so that the Aquatic Complex would be ready in time for the Jeux du Québec Finals which Laval is hosting this July, that deadline no longer applies as most people know by now.
By April 2018, the city was inviting residents to drop by city hall to view an exhibition showing plans developed by the four architectural competition finalists – including a 3D model of plans by the winning architectural firm. See photo below.
However, in September 2018 the Laval executive-committee announced that a call for tenders that was made for the construction of the superstructure, building envelope and other aspects of the future Aquatic Complex were cancelled because the lowest of three bids came in 46 per cent higher than the city budgeted.
“We are determined to build an aquatic centre,” Mayor Marc Demers said in a statement at the time. “We are talking about an infrastructure that is necessary for the well-being of Laval residents. On the other hand, we are not going to build it at any price.”
According to the city, measures would be taken to protect the existing foundations for the Aquatic Complex in view of the approaching winter season. On Oct. 2 that year, city council approved an expense of $710, 930.75 to pay for the application of a waterproofing membrane on the concrete foundation. However, the city added that this waterproofing work would have been done anyway as part of the regular construction process.
In November 2019, the vice-president of the executive-committee, Stéphane Boyer, issued a statement in which he said he wanted to set the record straight regarding the postponement of the Aquatic Complex project.
“What must be understood is that the project is neither abandoned nor has it gone beyond the costs,” said Boyer. “We chose to cancel call for tenders lot number three to give us time to analyze the various alternatives that will allow us to realize this project while respecting a balance between costs and quality.”
Officials with the city announced at the February city council meeting yet another delay: the cancellation of the contract with the architectural firm that was mandated to produce the initial plans for the Aquatic Complex.
The city announced that its contract with the consortium of companies that had been chosen (NFOE|HCMA) was cancelled because of what the city referred to as “the impossibility of the consortium to respect its contractual obligations.”