Toronto

Councillors to reconsider funding public swimming at Penny Oleksiak's old pool, S.H. Armstrong

The Toronto pool where Olympic champion Penny Oleksiak once swam is due to close to the public at the end of the month, but a city committee voted Wednesday to review its decision.

Local residents, organizations pushing city to keep programming going at Leslieville facility

Public swimming at S.H. Armstrong Pool, attached to Duke of Connaught Public School in Leslieville, will end in a few weeks due to a decision made in this year's city budget. (John Rieti/CBC)

The Toronto pool where Olympic champion Penny Oleksiak once swam is due to close to the public at the end of the month, but a city committee voted Wednesday to review its decision.

Council had voted to pull some $162,000 worth of programming money away from the S.H. Armstrong pool, located inside the Toronto District School Board's Duke of Connaught Public School in Leslieville, during last year's budget process, citing both low usage and proximity to other facilities. But a city committee voted Wednesday to review its decision to cut programming at the facility after hearing its usage has recently shot up from 69 to 89 per cent.

Coun. Paula Fletcher, who represents the area and moved the motion asking city council to consider restoring programming at the pool during the 2018 budget process, says the community wants the pool to stay.

"People haven't given up on this pool," she told CBC Toronto.

"I think the message from the community is 'give us another chance, let us show you what we can do.'"

Canadian Olympic medalist Penny Oleksiak, seen here at a previous swim meet, pushed to have the pool where she got her start kept open by the city. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

Fletcher says it's unclear whether the pool could reopen this fall. A sign on the community centre's door suggests three nearby pools people can use instead.

Working group boosting usage through social media

Sara Ehrhardt, an east-end resident who's leading a working group trying to prevent the closure, says with only basic offerings outside of school hours (students use it all day long), it's no wonder the usage rates are low.

"If programs were offered, we would be there," Ehrhardt told CBC Toronto, noting usage went up just from her group spreading the word that the pool does, in fact, offer public swim times. Fletcher, meanwhile, praised the group's use of social media, suggesting that's been able to spread the word better than the city's Fun Guide. 

With Leslieville intensifying — some 19 projects with 1,800 residential units could soon be built along Queen Street East between Broadview and Coxwell Avenues, according to city planning staff — the demand is expected to keep growing.

Fletcher also wants those who rely on New Hope Shelter to be able to use the pool on a regular basis.

Ehrhardt's working group includes representatives from the shelter, Toronto District School Board, Toronto Community Housing and the Applegrove Community Complex.

She said she's hopeful their suggestions will make a difference. 

"I think there's new information there now that council didn't have when they were making their decision, and I think that presents a great opportunity now to keep our pool," she said.

Pool debate captured city's attention

During the budget debate, Oleksiak tweeted her support for saving the pool and while Mayor John Tory vowed to review the decision — replying to the star swimmer: "gold medal message received" — he and council eventually voted in favour of moving the funding.

Ahead of Wednesday's debate, the Community Development and Recreation Committee received many messages supporting the pool.

The east-end neighbourhood where S.H. Armstrong is based is expecting major growth in the coming years. (John Rieti/CBC)

"Taking programming from a community that is growing constantly is unconscionable," wrote Suzanne Krupchyn, who said she learned to swim in the pool.

"Swimming is a Canadian necessity, but most of us can't belong to private clubs or travel distances to community centres outside our own neighbourhood," wrote Sylvie Zimmerman, a senior in the area.

Darlene Cunningham wrote that she's concerned there could be "tragic repercussions" if kids don't learn to swim, given the area's proximity to Lake Ontario.

Expanding programming could cost $180K

Reinstating and adding to the pool's programming is expected to cost some $180,000, a staff report suggests, and would require hiring one more full-time employee.

The city offers swimming lessons and other programs at 29 other pools set up in schools. The S.H. Armstrong pool itself gets a C-grade, due to its short length and lack of amenities like a wading pool.

About the Author

John Rieti is the senior producer of digital at CBC Toronto. Born and raised in Newfoundland, John has worked in CBC newsrooms across the country. In Toronto, he's covered everything from the Blue Jays to Toronto city hall. Outside of work, catch him cycling in search of the city's best coffee.