Is Hillcrest going under?

[attach]5365[/attach]As part of the mayor’s cost-cutting initiative, the Toronto District School Board-run pool at Hillcrest Community Centre could see city programming withdrawn from the site.

The proposed 2012 operating budget for Parks, Forestry and Recreation recommends eliminating city programming, including instructional and leisure swim, as well as aquatic leadership courses, and associated positions at seven of 33 shared-use school board pools, saving the city $979,000.

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

Ward 21 councillor Joe Mihevc said many residents have contacted him concerned about the potential program cuts.

“The community is highly anxious about the closure,” Mihevc said. “It is a well-established, much used and loved community resource, both on the community centre side and the swimming pool side.”

Brix Theis’ two children, who attend Hillcrest Community School, have gone for weekly swimming on evenings and weekends since junior kindergarten.

“For us, (the difference) would be like day and night,” she said.

Because Hillcrest was recently upgraded, Theis says she was especially surprised to hear it was one of the seven.

“I know for a fact our pool got a new pump, it was actually revitalized,” she said. “And now they’re pulling back on something that was beautified.”

The seven pools were selected based on low annual visits, high relative costs per visit, the proximity of other indoor swim opportunities in the ward, as well as the ward’s demographics.

But parents like Ursula Boylan contend the pool is highly utilized and the city has not individually studied each pool.

She referenced a previous deal the Aquatics Working Group and Toronto Sports Council brokered with the province to close 8 of 39 school pools originally threatened in 2008–2009 after the state of repair and use determined they were too costly to repair and maintain.

In response, the province pledged more than $15 million for repairs and improvements over several years for the 33 remaining pools.

“At least they had information when they closed the eight,” Boylan said. “But here there is no information … I could live with it if they had the information and found it wasn’t viable.”

Mihevc also took issue with the process, saying it was too hasty and driven by a 10 percent cut to every city department.

“If the arbitrary number is 10 percent, you just have to start basically hacking away, and that’s what was done here,” Mihevc said. “This is not the subject of any thoughtful process … this is really the end result of a slash and burn budget process.”

He believes the decision could disproportionately affect the ward’s low-income residents, because they may not be able to travel to another pool if Hillcrest stops offering city programming.

“Some of the affluent people will get in their cars and go to ones that are further away, but I think poorer folks will just lose that service,” he said. “Driving people to drive, I don’t think is the way to go.”

Former mayor and chair of the Toronto Lands Corporation, David Crombie, said the primary issue is not so much closing pool programming, but doing so without a full, transparent community consultation.

“If it’s sensible to (close pools) for the city, then they should do it,” he said. “But people don’t trust it if they don’t know what’s happening.

“One of the great advantages of the way we did it before, it was totally public, it was totally engaging, it was totally transparent … None of that has occurred so far.”

Toronto City Council votes on the budget Jan. 17–19.