THUNDER BAY – The chances of a future rebuild of the closed Dease Pool don’t appear to be bright, despite vocal community support to save Thunder Bay’s oldest outdoor swimming pool.
During their budget deliberations on Wednesday, Thunder Bay city council voted against spending $50,000 for a further design study to rebuild the century-old pool.
Dease Pool, the city’s first outdoor pool, was built in 1912 for the purpose of giving children an alternative to swimming in the Kaministiquia River after there had been drownings.
In the first major decision of its term, Thunder Bay city council voted to close the aging unheated pool, which was showing signs of structural deficiencies.
Coun. Brian Hamilton, the ward councillor representing the McKellar ward where the pool is located, said he couldn’t agree with the $50,000 ask.
“I think the community can take heart in knowing the pool is not scheduled for demolition in this year,” Hamilton said. ““For the sake of this budget and for $50,000, I think we’ve got all the plans.”
Coun. Rebecca Johnson made it clear her mind is made up.
“We were very clear, unfortunately for some and I respect that, that we made a decision that this pool was going to close and we were going to put monies into year-round programming, which to me is better for that community overall than a pool which can only be used for approximately eight weeks,” Johnson said.
“We made a decision a couple of weeks ago. It’s over and done with. I’m sorry. That’s the way it is and I would rather keep it that way than keeping on saying to the community, maybe. That’s not fair to the community.”
Coun. Cody Fraser said he also didn’t want to give the pool’s supporters false hope.
“When you’re emotional about something, so you spend money on something but you’re not going to achieve what you actually want to achieve,” Fraser said. “If we throw $50,000 at this, we get a cost estimate whatever it is, $1 million or whatever, I still don’t think I’m going to support opening Dease Pool up again.”
Coun. Andrew Foulds, who was the only vote against its closure in December, said the decision to shut it down for the upcoming summer did not rule out a rebuild.
In the following weeks, grassroots organizers have attempted to save the pool and have recounted stories about what it has meant to them, their families and the neighbourhood.
“It doesn’t mean we have to (rebuild) but it at least gives us, I think, a better estimate of what the pool would cost if we wanted to just build the pool or we wanted to build the whole thing,” Foulds said, arguing for the study.
“At the very least I think we owe the citizens of Thunder Bay and those that have been fighting for this facility at least the correct information to make a decision.”
When council voted to close the pool, city administration provided estimates of $1 million to repair the existing pool basin, $1.3 million for a brand new pool and a total $2.8 million cost for a new pool and overhauled change room facilities that would meet modern standards.
City asset management director Gerry Broere said he didn’t expect any future studies to present a significantly different outcome.
“In terms of the pool basin, I don’t imagine there would be much difference in the final estimate,” Broere said. “If anything, it would be the change room costs that would more than likely change.”
Pool supporter Kateri Banning has previously presented council with a plan that she estimated would cost $600,000 to build a new, smaller pool within the existing basin.
City heritage advisory committee chair Andrew Cotter at Monday’s city council meeting said the committee would put the pool through its evaluation process to potentially become designated.
“At the end of the day, the city of Thunder Bay council has the final say in all of those matters,” Cotter said.