More Fernie residents participate in Royal Life Saving Society Canada courses to become lifeguards than in any town in B.C. with a population below 20,000, says Leah Ray, a lifeguard at the Fernie Aquatic Centre.
“We’re in really close proximity to a whole bunch of lakes and possible aquatic danger zones,” said Ray. “So we’re giving the youth all those skills to go out and be able to help themselves and other people.”
A number of residents receive training to become lifeguards at the Fernie Aquatic Centre, which is a multi-purpose indoor facility that provides both leisure and educational aquatic experiences.
Ray has been working at the Aquatic Centre for five years and been lifeguarding since high school.
She said the centre offers Aquatic Certification, which is a good way to start a promising career in aquatics. It also offers Bronze Medallion, Bronze Cross and junior lifeguard programs through its Junior Lifeguard Club. There’s also Water Safety Instructor training to become a certified swim teacher and a new Bronze Star program.
But the Aquatic Centre is not just for prospective lifeguards, it’s for everyone and anyone who can float, says director of Leisure Services Lloyd Smith.
For those just looking to get their feet wet, “there’s also a whack of regular swimming lessons going on,” he said.
There are some 45-minute aquafit programs that run during the week. There’s a waterslide, hot tub, sauna and steam room and a splash park. There’s also a six-lane 25 metre competitive pool, which is used for both casual lane swim fitness and competitive meets.
Occasionally Aquatic Centre staff will set up a Wibit obstacle course.
You only have a few weeks to get in on the action as the centre will be closed from May 6 until Canada Day.
Smith said the annual closure is necessary to keep costs down and do routine maintenance work. The city has considered moving the shutdown to July or August, when the temperature is warmer and people are more likely to swim at a lake but that would cause interruptions to the local swim team’s training schedule.
“We never really think that we have the right answer,” said Smith. “We’re always searching for the best answer.”
During the shutdown, the pool will be drained, regrouted and then refilled. There will also be repairs to the sauna.
“It’s not a huge amount of work but it takes time,” he said.
The other reason the centre closes down is to save money.
“Our budget’s been the same the past few years but of course everything gets more expensive,” said Smith.
The City of Fernie operates the Aquatic Centre at a 30 per cent recovery rate. That means it recovers 30 cents for every dollar spent. Smith said this was reasonable compared to other community pools, which have even lower rates of return.
Smith said the centre’s biggest expense is staff. Whereas Fernie Memorial Arena can effectively be run by only one or two employees, the Aquatic Centre needs someone at the front desk, someone supervising the waterslide and a number of lifeguards on duty.
This is why the city has been trying to increase usage at the Aquatic Centre by trying to create a safe, clean facility where people can have fun.
“We’re doing fairly well considering,” he said. “But we’re still struggling to keep revenues as high as possible. We want to be really good at what we do at the pool so that when we’re open, it’s busy.”
Smith said things have been looking up. Requests for swim lessons have gone up so staff has been adding more lessons in the evenings and mornings and the attendance at aquafit classes has been increasing, “which is excellent to see.”
“We recognize that there are many recreational opportunities in this town,” said Smith. “If you are going to go to the pool we want you to feel you’re having the best experience possible, so that it becomes one of the activities you and your family regularly enjoys.”