'Ruining our lives:' Families fuming as Burlington changes swimming pool hours

Burlington's swimming clubs will enter a bid to earn sole rights to competitive swimming hours. Families fear it will lead to a monopoly, but the city says it has to serve the broader community and offer more time for basic swimming programs.

Chris Glenn, the city’s director of recreation services, says a 600-person waitlist spurred the new proposal

Families of competitive swimmers in Burlington fear their dreams of reaching the Olympics may be ruined because of the city's move to allot more hours to basic swimming programs. (Koji Sasahara/The Associated Press)

Dina Radwa fears her two sons' dreams of becoming Olympic swimmers may be ruined because of the city of Burlington's changes to the swimming pool schedule.

Chris Glenn, the city's director of recreation services, told CBC News the city was forced to change its framework for community recreation because about 600 people are on the waitlist to access swim programs and some pools may have had 100 swimmers in at once.

Burlington city council is meeting on Monday and will discuss the plan again, but Radwa says she and others will voice their concerns, as they did during the last meeting.

On Feb. 10, city council carried a motion for the new framework, which would transform all the pool schedules and reduce the hours dedicated to competitive swimming by only allowing one club extended access to the water.

This monday, the city will finalize the plan.

Glenn says they have a proposal to have all the local competitive swim clubs enter a bid to have a chance of getting the prime spot.

Radwa calls it "unfair," fearing it may lead to a monopoly.

"We need to stop them from ruining our lives," she told CBC News.

"We have swimmers who are qualified for Olympic trials, we have swimmers who are getting scholarships, so by giving lesson times to only one club, how can they accommodate all those swimmers and keep the bar high for everyone to achieve their dreams?"

City looking for 'balance' in swimming programs

Glenn said they were left with no choice but to take action as all of their swimming programs are growing in popularity, including ones needed to create new lifeguards.

"We know it's a challenge and it's difficult," he said. "We're looking to balance the swimming opportunities for our broader community … the learn-to programs would be prioritized."

The city of Burlington says it is changing the swimming schedule to benefit the broader community. (David Goldman/The Associated Press)

But, he also said the swim clubs can rent other pools or try to get creative.

"We might see one group come and be successful over the other. The other choice is they can come together and collaborate and provide one submission that would have the clubs figure it out."

Glenn said the new allotted time is more than any single club has now, which would give a club the opportunity to fit in more swimmers — though the new set of hours still doesn't match the current number of hours between all of the clubs.

Families think city should consider alternatives

Radwa thinks a better alternative would be to renovate other city pools, such as putting a dome over the Nelson pool.

"That would certainly be a price tag," Glenn said. "It's a different environment in a dome over a pool than a dome over a soccer pitch because you're dealing with a wet, warm environment."

The transformed schedule will be a "net neutral" for the city, Glenn added.

However, Radwa says the city may lose other benefits — and maybe even some swimmers.

"Swim meets bring visitors to the city, it helps the economy of the city. I don't know why we want to cut the competitive swimmers to only one club," she added.

"The only other option is to [find a club] outside of the city ... We are put in a corner."

Glenn says he hopes to start writing the new program by the end of March and introduce the changes by September.


Bobby Hristova is a journalist with CBC Hamilton. He reports on all issues, but has a knack for stories that hold people accountable, stories that focus on social issues and investigative journalism. He previously worked for the National Post and CityNews in Toronto. You can contact him at bobby.hristova@cbc.ca.