School pools extend contract

[attach]5036[/attach]The school pools agreement between the City of Toronto and the Toronto District School Board has been extended beyond its December deadline to allow for negotiations to continue.

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.

Now, with the initial agreement set to expire at the end of 2011, the city has asked the Toronto Lands Corporation, a subsidiary of the Toronto District School Board, to extend the agreement to the end of April.

The Toronto Land Corporation’s CEO, Shirley Hoy, said the agreement was extended because the current situation at city hall was not seen as the ideal climate for negotiations.

“Because the city is going through a very challenging budget process right now, the general manager of parks, forestry and recreation has written to me saying they would like an extension of the current lease until the end of April 2012,” she said.

Under the current memorandum of understanding, the city leases 33 school pools and pays for their operating costs. The board pays for capital costs, repairs and maintenance, and has access during the day while the city has access during evenings and weekends.

As it stands, the city pays approximately $6.1 million annually. Some, such as Ward 31 councillor Janet Davis, say there’s room for improvement.

“That amount of money, I believe, is excessive considering the real costs,” she said. “I believe we should be looking at protecting the pools but ensuring the city gets a good deal.”

Hoy said the agreement only covers the operating costs and no money is left over. She also said the school board does not charge the city when the pools are inaccessible.

“I think it’s fair and reasonable because when they have to close the pools for repairs, (the school board) has not charged the city,” she said.

Hoy said she supported the extension because it gives the city additional time to deal with its budget issues, which will make for more productive negotiations.

The Toronto Sports Council’s chair Karen Pitre said she was glad to hear the agreement was extended, because it will give them more time to look into how to make the most of school pools in the future.

“We want to make sure that we understand all the differences that these pools offer, as well as which pools are underutilized, which pools have waiting lists, why, and how do we drive demand to these pools that are underutilized,” she said.

A staff report on school pools will go to the city’s community development and recreation committee on Nov. 4.

“I’m looking forward to the report,” Davis said. “I think it’s important that we continue to use school pools because thousands of children have learned to swim as a result of this agreement in many pools across the city.”