Councillor Josh Matlow

Toronto Star: City urged to reconsider cuts to school pools

December 1, 2011


Former Toronto mayor David Crombie is asking the city to “revisit” its proposal to axe funding for seven school pools, urging staff to work with the school board instead.


The city has proposed eliminating programs in school pools at Bedford Park, Frankland, Gordon A. Brown, Hillcrest Community Centre, Runnymede Collegiate, Duke of Connaught and Sir Wilfrid Laurier Collegiate.


Whether the board can afford to keep those pools afloat without the city’s help is unknown.


Crombie, now chair of the Toronto District School Board’s real estate arm, wrote to city budget committee chair Mike Del Grande on Thursday, expressing his “deep disappointment with the city in the handling” of the pools it leases from the board.


Crombie said the city and board — through the Toronto Lands Corporation — began discussions in September 2010 about the “continued use of school pools” into 2012 and beyond, and the two had created a steering committee.


That committee had already agreed to seek input from the public, as the board itself had done three years ago, working with parents and pool supporters. (In that instance, eight of 39 school-operated pools were closed — with the support of the community. The remaining pools have since tripled their permit revenues, to more than $1 million a year.)


Crombie said the steering committee has already looked at a way to analyze viability of the pools and talks were underway when the city announced the potential cuts.


“This unilateral, abrupt rupture of the agreed-upon process only serves to weaken the attainment of a solution that is thoughtful, well-understood and supported by the community,” Crombie said.


“I recognize that a savings target was assigned to this program [almost $1 million], however, the process used to determine which pools are impacted subverts any meaningful input and participation by community partners, including swim organizations, parent groups, and residents interested in aquatic programming in the city.”


Mayor Rob Ford, when asked by reporters Thursday about the school pools, said they are not something the city should be supporting.


“I think the province and the school board should be funding those pools, not the city of Toronto,” he said.


The city proposal suggests that, along with eliminating programs in seven of 33 pools it leases, it will also axe the equivalent of 3.3 positions.


“The TDSB pools were selected based on low annual visits and high relative costs per visit, as well as the provision of other indoor swim opportunities in the ward or within a close geographic proximity,” the proposal says.


The city is also looking at eliminating programming at 12 school-based community centres: Bloordale, Brown, Earl Beatty, Fairmount Park/Bowmore, Hillcrest, James S. Bell, John English, John G. Althouse, Keele, McNicoll, The Elms and Thistletown.


Susana Molinolo, a mother of two children at Bowmore Road Public School, said school pools are a valuable community resource and that learning to swim is essential for children.


She was upset to hear programs at Fairmount Park were threatened.


“We live at that community centre,” she said, adding there’s great demand for the programs offered. “It’s really loved by the community. We would use it more — if there’s only one ballet class (offered), that’s where on paper it could look like low usage, but we could fill 20 of them up.”


In winter, volunteers help run a skating pond, “so our community is using it 365 days a year.”


She has already been in touch with her city councillor and hopes parents will mobilize to fight the proposed cuts.


Shirley Hoy, of the Toronto Lands Corp., said community input is crucial in such decisions.


“If you want to make sure you are making good decisions on pools . . . you have to go through a full and meaningful discussion with the community as well.”


Councillor Josh Matlow, a former school board trustee, has said that if implemented, the cuts to school pools and programming “could be devastating.”


“Everyone from children to seniors will be affected,” he said.


Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon took to social media, tweeting: “Get your bathing suits on #ward32 for the swim of our lives to keep our pool open!”


One parent said she couldn’t imagine why cuts were proposed for city programs run out of Fairmount, as it can’t keep up with demand as it is. “There’s a ballet program there that kids are clamouring to get into,” she said.


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