Pressure builds on city to jump in, save pools

The saga of Toronto’s doomed public pools got a little piece of good news last night.

The Toronto District School Board decided to save 13 of the 39 public pools slated for closure in June. The remaining 26 have been given two months to come up with funding to keep them operational.

This announcement comes a day after Premier Dalton McGuinty vowed to provide $12 million to bring the facilities into a state of good repair.

This announcement just leaves city hall left to jump into the ring and take part, not that they haven’t been given the opportunity already.

On a brisk spring morning last week a congregation of students, citizens and activists found themselves outside City Hall – clad in a mélange of swimsuits and street wear – hollering to “save our pools.”

It was the latest attempt by a number of concerned citizens to save 39 pools operated by the city from being closed in June.  The Community Development and Recreation Committee (CDRC) – chaired by councillor Janet Davis, Ward 13, Beaches-East York – was meeting to discuss the fate of the pools.

Among the crowd was Daniel Sorg, a student at Northern Secondary School. Dressed in nothing but his swimsuit, the issue has transformed Sorg from student to activist.

“I’m here to save Northern Secondary’s pool,” he said. “I was an obese child … and it was through swimming I was able to lose weight and make healthy choices that put me on the road to healthy living.”

It’s a complex issue that has only just recently found its champions. The good news is that the provincial government has agreed to pledge the money necessary for maintenance. Unfortunately that still leaves a hole for the annual operating costs. The TDSB has just now coughed up money for 13, which helps, but there are still 26 left on the chopping block.

Heidi Wilson of Let’s Make Waves – a community organization fighting to keep these pools open – explains that these pools are utilized by the community as a whole.

Wilson said that while the city has no statutory responsibility towards them it would be short sighted and irresponsible for them to turn a blind eye while they disappear.

“(City hall) is showing a tremendous lack of leadership and tremendous immaturity,” she said. “They’ve turned their back saying ‘this is not our responsibility,’ but they are in dire need of these resources.”

Councillor Karen Stintz, Ward 16, Eglington-Lawrence – is one of the few local politicians to lend support. What is frustrating to Stintz is the lack of political will within council.

“These pools are an important aspect of the community as a whole,” she said. “If the city were to step up and agree to work with all the stakeholders, we could find a way to keep the pools open and it wouldn’t cost (the city) any more.”

Currently that isn’t happening. The motion last week was not a request for funding, but merely a request for city hall to “prepare a report on how the city of Toronto and the TDSB can work together to keep our community pools operational.” The motion did not carry, despite over 70 citizens registering with the city administrator to speak at the meeting.

However, now that both the province and the TDSB are putting on a little bit of pressure, Wilson maintains hope that pressure will build for the city step up and save the remaining ones. What looked grim as little as a month ago has very quickly turned around.