THUNDER BAY – The city’s oldest outdoor swimming pool is slated for closure.
Thunder Bay city council, at the first significant meeting of their new term, on Monday night voted to shut down the century-old Dease Pool.
It was the city’s first outdoor pool when built in 1912 and was meant to keep children from swimming in the Kaministiquia River after there had been multiple drownings.
Kelly Robertson, the city’s general manager of community services, said while the facility has likely provided fond memories to many in the community over its years, the 106-year-old pool no longer meets current standards.
“It’s going to be facing imminent collapse. In my opinion, there are already risks with that facility,” Robertson said. “The concrete is heaving, the basin is very much patched. I hear reports the wooden portion of the deck presents risk to the users of the facility.”
The pool, which is not heated, also has change rooms that do not have hot water and do not meet accessibility requirements.
In its report to council, city administration estimated that repairing the existing pool basin would cost more than $1 million. A brand new pool at the site would cost $1.3 million, with a total $2.8 million price tag with new change rooms.
Last year there was a total of 3,300 swimmers at Dease Pool during its eight-week summer season, though that number is not reflective of unique users. The Art Widnall Pool – another outdoor pool – is located a kilometre away.
Gerry Broere, the city’s director of asset management, was asked whether Dease Pool would be safe for the 2019 season.
“Safe is relative with a 100-year-old pool,” Broere said. “They’ve been swimming in it for the last 20 years. The last five years we’ve done a structural review of the basin but it’s coming to a point now where the liner is actually delaminating and I think what we need to do is pull that liner out to take a look at what’s really happening. There’s evidence the wall is starting to deteriorate.”
Council approved administration’s recommendation to reallocate $52,000 from the pool’s annual operating budget to support increased year-round programming at Dease Park and Minnesota Park, with neighbourhood residents being consulted about options.
Coun. Brian Hamilton, representing the McKellar ward where the pool is located, called Dease Pool a staple of the community and said he could only support its closure if it meant that children in the neighbourhood ended up receiving a greater benefit.
“This can’t be about cost savings alone,” Hamilton said.
“This can’t just be about closing the pool. This has to be a plan about updating inclusiveness, updating opportunities and ultimately the health of our children in this neighbourhood. This plan has to be comprehensive. The closure of Dease Pool has to only be a small, small component of it.”
Evergreen a United Neighbourhood executive director Linda Bruins wrote to council to endorse closing the pool, citing health and safety concerns along with declining number of participants.
“The need for increasing programming is based on the increase of participants annually and our limited budgets,” Bruins wrote.
This wasn’t the first time Dease Pool had been on the chopping block. Discussions about closing the pool date back to the late 1970s and city officials had previously recommended shuttering the pool by 2016.
Coun. Trevor Giertuga said his decision to close the pool now is about more than any cost savings.
“We heard we could do another year but it comes with risks. Are we prepared to put the children and youth at risk?” Giertuga said.
“I think we’re at the end. I don’t think we can do one more year. I’m not prepared to roll the dice and potentially have someone get injured or something happen at this place.”
Coun. Andrew Foulds, a fourth-term councillor who questioned whether past councils should have put more money into the pool over the years, cast the lone vote in favour of keeping the pool open.
"There are 40 hours every week provided at that pool that are absolutely free for young people," Foulds said.