Residents advocating for an indoor pool are working on strategies from all angles, and plan to convince the town decision-makers to look to the future rather than the past.
It’s an idea that has been floated before, but they are moving on from those discussions, doing their homework and hoping the town will get behind them and look at ways to make it happen.
The capital and operating costs have always been considered too steep for a small town like Niagara-on-the-Lake, but the group of five people, with many more supporting them, point to other Ontario towns with similar or smaller populations that have been successful in building an indoor pool, and paying for its operation, some with a deficit — one of the most recent examples they could find funding it from development charges.
Garron Wells, Pam Lillos, Dawn McIsaac, Sheila Serio and Lynne Sawatsky make up the core group, and while getting signatures for a petition to show a groundswell of support is their focus at the moment, they continue to look for “strategic people” who have ideas that may help them advance their cause.
All of them are women who, over the course of many years, have relied on Vintage Hotels’ indoor pools in the winter, attending their morning aquafit programs. Some of them made it to five classes a week, even during the summer — the local pools have either had no such programs during the summer, or when they did, the classes were in the evening.
“We’d have gone to them if they were at 8 or 9 a.m.,” says Serio, but evening classes just don’t work for them.
Calculating the number of residents who regularly used the Vintage pools, Wells says, pre-pandemic, there were about 90 members spaced over the time slots. “It was formidable.”
Paul MacIntyre, vice-president of operations for Vintage Hotels, responding to an inquiry from The Local, says they have no plans to open their pools to the public for this season.
“Our pool facilities are not large, and our outdoor pool at the Pillar & Post was the popular location for our guests and membership. Our facility is simply not big enough to accommodate everyone and meet the standards of service and space we want to provide for our guests and a membership base coming out of the pandemic,” he says. “In the future, if we expand we would possibly reconsider, but for now our focus has been on recovery efforts of the hotels.”
The women stress they are not criticizing the hotels for no longer opening to them — the pools closed during the pandemic, and have never reopened to residents. As McIsaac says, they are within their rights, as a business, to make the best decisions for their businesses.
It’s the town’s responsibility to look after its residents, and an indoor pool would benefit more than just seniors, the women stress. They have heard from young moms who would love a moms and tots program, and who are concerned about water safety, which would include swimming lessons for younger kids and lifeguard training for the older ones.
Other indoor pools nearby include the one at WhiteOaks Resort and Spa, with a small pool and a steep membership, and the Kiwanis Aquatics Centre in St. Catharines, which is a bit of a drive in winter.
It’s also the only one offering physical therapy, which would be a benefit to many closer to home.
The women have done their research, and discovered several older indoor pools in similar sized municipalities built at around the $12 million mark.
Other newer ones reached prices as high as $32 million or more, but they were for community recreational complexes that include libraries and arenas and more, in one new or expanded building, such as the one McIsaac recently travelled to visit in Caledon East.
While the women are leaving details such as funding opportunities and locations up to council to decide, they are ready to help out if the town decides to move ahead.
“We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel,” says McIsaac — the town staff can do its homework, and will find many changes on the recreational landscape since their 2018 report.
As Lillos points out, “the demographics in town are changing so quickly. We really do need more in the way of recreation, especially for young people.”
There needs to be a “political will,” adds Wells. “It would attract people to town, and it would bring young families.”
While they are open to any location in NOTL, they fear, if the town does give a positive response, it will be tied to development in the Glendale area. They would happily drive to Glendale to swim, they say, but they don’t want to have to wait for years — they joke at their age they can’t wait too long — and they are uncomfortable with the thought that it could be planned as part of the development, but might never materialize.
Coun. Sandra O’Connor has attended some of the group meetings, and agrees the discussion “is not just about seniors who want to do aquafit, it’s families and swimming lessons, it’s about young people training for lifeguards. It has to be inclusive for everybody to use.”
The group reached out to her for some advice, she says — whereas her first term people knew her as someone who would champion environment causes, “this time they are contacting me about many different issues.”
O’Connor says while cost is at the top of the list of challenges, she thinks “it’s doable.”
“There’s a big difference in the landscape,” she says. “We no longer have other options. And personally, I think this is a realistic request,” she adds, mentioning municipalities close to NOTL’s size that have indoor pools “that are affordable and sustainable.”
The women are aware there is a fundraising committee moving forward to see either a new pool or a refurbished one for St. Davids, and although they haven’t spoken to that committee, they intend to. They don’t want to step on any toes, and theirs is a different project altogether, but if there was a will to combine them, even with a covered outdoor pool, they could work with that.
“I’d drive to St. Davids,” says Serio, if the town was onside and it could be worked out with the St Davids Lions to use the park.
The group is looking for help, mainly at this point to get their petition signed. While they need signatures, they could also use volunteers willing to go door-to-door, especially in Glendale.
They also suggest if people belong to an organization in town they could print off a petition and take it to their group to sign.
For a petition, more information or to offer to help, email [email protected].