Although the Riley Park Community centre has been around for decades, it never once caught my attention. I personally rarely use City rec facilities, and I'll admit that I'm only interested in 'going to the pool' after it's drained, abandoned, and partially deconstructed. I like to think that I was one of the final people to use this facility in a recreational capacity, although my idea of leisure activity was one this building was not built to serve.
There's not much of a story to tell here. I'd heard this facility was being abandoned, the familiary tale of replacement by a larger, brand-new facility across the street. Thus, the doors of the Riley Park centre were securely boarded up, and the building sat empty for around a year. I suspect the lights were kept on inside for the sake of the security guard assigned to the premises.
Eventually, orange tarps covered over windows and vents, signalling an asbestos abatement crew had begun early demolition work. After the asbestos was removed, accessing the building became rather easy, due to lack of doors and windows.
Despite the presence of a security guard, I managed to visit the building a couple times. The facility was, however, a bit small, and the guard usually sat on a chair in the middle of the building's only hallway, which prevented me from checking out gym and curling rink. Luckily, the pool and lower mechanical rooms were quite accessible, and probably the coolest part of the facility.
I would argue that the building was more interesting because of the asbestos abatement and demolition work that had occurred. No longer the Percy Norman Memorial Pool everyone of decades past had known, this was a space in it final days. Its former character ripped apart, walls spraypainted, rubble piled in the empty pool, weak light pouring through windows without glass. The only noise was that of the street outside, heard through the holes in the walls, and the tinny sound of music coming from the security guard's radio in the bare, dust-streaked hallway.
The mechanical room was a treat, as well. Little demolition had taken place, and most of the equipment was still in place. No doubt it's tough to remove giant filters, pumps, fans, and boilers and haul them up a small stairwell. I found a few small 9mm bullet shells on the mineral-stained concrete floor, in the back of a ventilation room, presumably left over from a police training excercise in the empty building.
All doors were open, and I wandered through staff rooms and lockers, offices and strange crawlspaces. Avoiding the security guard was a bit tricky in such a small, echoey building. I was nearly caught both times I visited- once I came up a corner and was suddenly only ten feet away from a sleeping face. Of course my intentions were harmless, but I'm glad confrontation was avoided.
The last time I went past the building, it was a pile of rubble contained within a few walls, but a long time it seemed as though it would stand, abandoned, forever. In Vancouver, buildings are demolished all the time, almost in the blink of an eye. The Riley Park centre sat boarded up for a year, orange-tarped for six months, and another good six months with no doors, a rate of demolition that in Vancouver time is nearly glacial. I can't say I'll miss the Percy Norman Pool, but I can say it was fun to be one of its last users.