Toronto school pools likely to close, TDSB chair says

Toronto school pools likely to close, TDSB chair says: “

By Dave Bowden, National Post

After nearly two years of attempts to keep school pools open, the well might finally be dry for the Toronto District School Board.

Thirty-nine pools owned and operated by the board, many of which are in various states of disrepair, may have to close their doors as early as June after budget cuts rendered them economically unfeasible for a cash-strapped board facing a $26-million deficit.

‘Without any sort of funding to fix up those pools and provide them with long term, sustainable support –’ so that when they do fall apart, there’s money there to keep them operational – we’re just not in a position to carry those pools any longer,’ said TDSB chair John Campbell.

The board first voted in June, 2007, to close all of its pools by June, 2008, if provincial funding could not be secured. It identified 23 pools that would have closed last June and an additional 16 that were to close this June, until a $4-million one-time-only provincial grant kept them afloat. Now, all 39 pools face closure.

The board enlisted former mayor David Crombie last spring to head its Aquatics Working Group, asking him to create a long-term strategy that could keep the pools open. But his report, to be presented to the board’s planning committee Thursday, calls for a cash injection from already ailing provincial government coffers.

The report calls for $12-million in provincial funding over five years, which it suggests could come from Infrastructure Minister George Smitherman’s pledge to fund ‘shovel-ready’ projects. But Mr. Campbell said he’s not optimistic that history will repeat itself.

‘It’s up to the province to respond,’ he said. ‘And after [Finance Minister] Dwight Duncan just told the world that they’re looking at $18-billion in deficits, it doesn’t look that promising.’

The report also asks that the city ‘continue delivery of community programming’ in the board’s pools, but stops short of asking for municipal money.

However, some in the board resent the city’s recent decision to put millions of dollars toward a new aquatic centre in Scarborough, which will play a key role in its bid to land the 2015 Pan Am games.

‘I’m obviously disappointed that the City of Toronto, after telling us that they have no money for these at-risk pools over the last 18 months, has now allocated $37.5 million to a one-site aquatic centre in Scarborough,’ said trustee James Pasternak, one of just five trustees who voted against closing the pools.’

‘What they’re doing is telling at least two dozen communities that they’re not as important as one site in Scarborough.’

The new report calls for seven ‘prohibitive to repair’ pools to be closed first so that funds can be diverted to the remaining 32. Of those, the report considers 24 to have ‘some/significant community use’ and ranks them highest in terms of priority for provincial funding, while eight are ‘probationary’ and should be given a timeline to develop community demand.

Pools on the chopping block include: Bickford, Bloor, Central Commerce, Danforth, Oakwood, Parkdale and Ursula Franklin.

Meanwhile, Carleton Village, Earl Grey, George S. Henry, Humberside, Kensington, North Toronto, Queen Alexandra and Winona are ‘probationary.’

Allenby, AY Jackson, Central Tech, Deer Park, Downsview, Fern, Forest Hill, George Harvey, Glenview, Harbord, Jarvis, Keele, Lawrence Park, Malvern, Monarch Park, Newtonbrook, Northern, RH King, Riverdale, Rosedale Heights, Stephen Leacock, WA Porter, Western Tech and Westview Centennial have ‘some/significant’ use but could still be closed if funding’s not secured.

Photo of Riverdale Collegiate pool by Nathan Denette, National Post

(Via National.)

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