Skip to content

Tour of recreation centre provides glimpse into future

'I truly believe it will become a significant landmark in the community,' says mayor; menu of features is 'impressive'

Amid the buzz of saws and the sounds of construction Wednesday, Orillia Mayor Steve Clarke, several city councillors and members of the media were given a tour of the recreation centre taking shape on West Street.

“I believe there was a period of time when some in the community had a belief, maybe, that we couldn’t undertake something like this and this is proof that we can,” said Clarke. “I’m excited on many levels about this project.”

The project is massive and comes with a $53.7-million price tag. A little more than $20 million of that budget has been spent to date.

Kent Guptill, the city’s manager of facilities and special projects, led the tour and was joined by several other senior city staffers in addition to Robert Allan, the project architect.

“It’s certainly an active construction site with lots of trades and equipment on site,” said Guptill, noting about 80% of on-site work has been completed, while the building is about 30% finished.

Sitting on a 36-acre brownfield site, the building’s footprint occupies about 1.5 acres, with another seven acres devoted to parking and access. Once complete, there will be 21.5 acres of naturalized parkland and about six acres of wetland.

Touring the massing three-level building rising from the ground and meandering around concrete forms that will eventually house three pools brings the scope of the project into focus.

“This is the biggest brownfield reclamation that we’ve been involved with,” said Allan. “We work all over the world … This one is really a transformation project.”

While you can get a glimpse into the potential attractiveness of the building and its practical uses, what you can’t see may be most important. It lies far below the ground.

To build on the contaminated land has added many layers to the project, both literally and figuratively. Allan said much of the building’s final location and its design were dictated by the Ministry of Environment (MOE).

That was evident, down below, beneath the pools, where the gas membrane was still visible; it will be covered, eventually, by a slab of concrete. That membrane is above two other protective layers.

Allan explained a Cupolex system will be in place throughout the building. It’s an aerated floor forming system for concrete slab construction “which creates a cutting-edge mitigation system to protect occupied buildings from soil vapor intrusion, sustain concrete floors even in swelling and challenging soil conditions, and sustain heavy loads.” There’s also a clay liner in place. “It’s a layer cake of safety,” Allan quipped.

“Everything we did on this project was basically to respond to the MOE requirements,” explained Allan as he pointed out some of the safety features as the group toured the basement area below the pools. “We’ve never done this much work to make this stuff safe. It’s extremely unique to this project.”

It’s why the city trucked in 200,000 tons of soil from West Orillia. About 29,000 more tons will be added in addition to 10,000 tons of top soil.

“This pool does not sit in the ground, it sits on the ground,” noted Allan

Allan said he is confident the building will be safe. In fact, he said the environment will be one of the healthiest possible.

He said a ground-breaking duct and exhaust system “is going to be transformative in terms of making sure that environment is as healthy as possible.”

He said the “novel” system targets chloramines (the product of chlorine reacting to organic compounds) or, what Allan referred to as “all the bad stuff that sits at the surface of pool water. These ducts draw chloramines off the pool,” he said.

“Chloramines are a real problem because they sit right at the water line, so when you’re coming up for air on a sidestroke, that’s what you’re breathing in,” Allan explained. “We want to make sure there is a very low volume transfer across the surface of the pool and that stuff is pulled off and gets exhausted … that’s a bit of an innovation in this facility.”

In addition, pool water will be at deck-level at Orillia’s new facility. In older pools, water sits about six inches below deck level.

“Having water at deck level means the ability to brush that stuff off the surface of the pool with air flow is increased,” said Allan. “This system (is) essentially responding to the notion that pool environments need to be super healthy because people are actively engaged in sports here. We want to make sure air is as clean as possible.”

Ray Merkley, the director of parks, recreation and culture, led a tour through the large natatorium, explaining the various features of the three pools: a 25-metre, eight-lane lap pool, therapy pool and leisure pool with play features.

He pointed out where the diving boards would be, explained how the climbing wall will allow climbers to fall into the pool below and spoke about the unique features of the pools – from the lazy river and geysers in the leisure pool to the important accessibility features and water temperatures common in all three pools.

“It takes 2,062,000 litres of water to fill the pools,” Merkley explained, noting the moveable floor will allow for a wide range of uses. He said the floor can be moved from a depth of zero to 3.5 metres in a matter of minutes.

“A moveable floor and multiple basins (makes it) one of the most adaptable pool configurations we’ve done in our history,” said Allan, noting Merkley was “very specific in what they wanted and how they wanted to operate this. The result is a very, very flexible pool that’s versatile.”

Allan, whose company has done projects throughout North America and beyond, said the Orillia pool component is bigger than most. “This is one of the larger civic natatoriums that we’ve done and we’ve worked all over the world.”

But this is more than a pool, said Merkley, who pointed out where the gyms, fitness centre and other amenities will be built.

The place where the gyms will one day be constructed is huge. The space includes bleachers on two sides and room for two FIBA-sized basketball courts or four junior-sized courts. “The entire gym will be about 14,800 square feet,” said Merkley, noting the double gym at Twin Lakes Secondary School is about 9,400 square feet. It will be, by far, the largest gym space in the city.

In addition, there’s a three-storey fitness centre. The top floor is a 220-metre running track that encircles the gym; it’s cantilevered out over the front entrance. There are changerooms that can be divided in half for tournaments and a “fitness courtyard” will be built outside for use in good weather.

For the mayor, the building is as important as the message it sends.

“It’s our largest capital project in our history and it’s also, I believe, one of the final pieces of major infrastructure needed to really be a mature small urban centre, so I think that’s exciting,” said Clarke. “It’s going to promote healthier lifestyles and create an economic impact to the area in terms of drawing people here on a daily basis.

“I truly believe, given its presence we saw today, it will become a significant landmark in the community. This is more than just four walls – it’s a true community centre and we’re putting measures in there that will give it a social heart. People will be glad they’re there and go away and brag about it to others and can’t wait to come back.”


Verified reader

If you would like to apply to become a verified commenter, please fill out this form.

Dave Dawson

About the Author: Dave Dawson

Dave Dawson is community editor of
Read more