Community swims saved at 33 schools

A renewed agreement between the City of Toronto and the Toronto District School Board means community swimming programming will be kept afloat at 33 school pools for five years, pending council approval.

Back in 2009 when the Toronto District School Board was debating closing some of its pools, the city stepped in and agreed to fund several of the facilities to be used for its various aquatics programs.

The [url=]previous agreement will expire[/url] May 30, 2012. The new agreement provides updated terms for five years and will expire June 30, 2017.

City staff have recommended city council approve the agreement, which will allow the city to use the school pools after school hours and on weekends from September through June, with full hours of use in the summer.

The agreement went to the community development and recreation committee in April and will go for final council approval on May 8.
Currently, the city shares the use of pools in school board facilities and has done so since many of those buildings were constructed.

Under the current memorandum of understanding, the city leases and pays for the 33 pool’s operating costs, while the board pays for capital costs, repairs and maintenance.

The school board, which has approved the agreement, has cut the city’s fee to use the pools by $285,316 to $5.92 million. The fee will then rise 1.6 percent every year.

The city’s manager of aquatics, Anne Jackson, hailed the renewed agreement as a positive step forward.

“From the city’s viewpoint, we’re very pleased with the income,” she said. “We think that it is a fair deal, and it has enabled us to continue to operate all the 33 pools.”

Jackson said she is confident city council will abide by staff’s recommendation to approve the agreement.

“There were approximately eight deputations (at committee), and all of the deputants were recommending the approval of the agreement,” she said. “There were really no naysayers at the committee level.

“So based on that, I would be surprised if there was a problem getting a majority to approve it at council,” she added. “Having said that, there could certainly be some comments to the contrary.”

Pool advocate Karen Pitre, chair of the Toronto Sports Council, said the agreement, which has been under discussion for more than a year, goes a long way in cementing the partnership between the city and school board.

“I think it’s a great deal, for a number of reasons,” she said. “We now have a good working relationship between the city and the school board and that has not been the case for at least the last four years.”

The Toronto District School Board could not be reached in time for publication to provide further information on cost savings.

Pitre said she believes they were achieved by sharing costs that were previously paid by the city.

“For example, if you have a boiler that runs the school and the pool, you can’t attribute all the costs of the boiler to the pool,” Pitre said. “And that’s what was happening.

“Now they’ve gone back and done a much finer-grained analysis,” she added.

For Pitre, the next step is to increase awareness of the community assets because they were previously underutilized.

“The city used to say people drive by them and go to nicer pools, and I told them people drove by them because they didn’t know about them,” she said.

The first step is to put up signs at all the pools to provide additional info on how families can book the facilities for private events.

The Toronto Sports Council and Let’s Make Waves have secured funding from the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada for the signs.

“They basically say ‘here’s the pool,’ ” Pitre said. “And if you want to permit it or find out about programming on those pools, it will have Toronto 311 on it.”

Jackson said the city is putting together a permit project team to provide additional info.

“I think the next step is to try and make sure that we’re doing everything we can so that the public knows the pools are there for their use,” Jackson said.

“The city doesn’t only permit these pools, we offer public programs through lessons, leisure, drop in — the full menu of programming.”

The new agreement also includes a stipulation that would require each side to notify one another of any changes in number of pools used on Jan. 1, rather than with four months notice.

The city would also get more access to the pools during Christmas and March Break.

Pitre said while the agreement is a good step forward, the city and community organizations need to continue to find sustainable revenues for the pools.

“We always look at cutting costs, but we never look at increasing revenues,” she said. “The city needs to look at both sides of this equation, not just what this costs.”