NEWS

Runnymede swim programs may get axe

As part of the mayor’s cost-cutting initiative, the pool at Runnymede Collegiate Institute could see city programming axed at the site.

The 2012 operating budget for Parks, Forestry and Recreation recommends eliminating city programming and associated positions at seven of 33 shared-use Toronto District School Board pools for savings of $979,000.

Typically, the city offers instructional and leisure swims, aquatic leadership courses, as well as renting the space to outside groups. Under the current memorandum of understanding, the city pays the operating costs for the 33 pools. The board pays for capital costs, repairs and maintenance, and has access during the day while the city has access during evenings and weekends.

The seven pools were selected for service cuts 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.

The city estimates the elimination of evening and weekend programming will affect 48,341, or 7.5 percent of the total visits to the 33 school board pools currently leased by the city.

Ward 13 councillor Sarah Doucette pointed out roughly 50 percent of Runnymede’s students come from low-income families, and believes these kids would be disproportionately affected because they can’t afford to go elsewhere to swim.

“If you were to remove that pool and say to the community you have to pay for city programs somewhere else, or you have to go private, I would guess you’d probably lose more than 50 percent of those families,” she said.

Doucette added that some specific types of programming may not be offered across the board.

“By cutting a pool out of the equation, we’re going to lose those programs,” she said.

She also disputes the idea that community members looking for swimming programming could find space at other facilites in the area. Doucette says, from her own experience as a parent, many programs at schools such as Swansea Junior and Senior Public School already have waiting lists, which would make it difficult for them to accept a new influx of swimmers.

“How are we going to accommodate all those students in other local pools?” she asked. “I don’t think we can, so you’re going to lose those children learning to swim.”

Doucette believes the city should be looking into generating additional permit revenues through a private company or organization.

This was effective in increasing revenues for 39 Toronto District School Board pools that previously faced closure.

She said the city should be more proactive in a revenue strategy for when the pool is not in use by the city, currently after 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

Out of the seven school pools suggested for elimination of city programming, two currently have private revenues, Doucette said.