Corporate ads on pool walls?

Crombie to ask trustees for summer pool solutions

Natalie Alcoba, National Post : Friday, May 16, 2008

David Crombie says he will ask Toronto District School Board trustees to find a way to keep 23 pools slated to close next month open through the summer, as he works to come up with a long-term funding strategy.

"If they can't go that far, then looking for the long term is not a serious gesture," the former Toronto mayor told reporters at a brainstorming session for pool solutions last night.

It drew representatives from dozens of organizations such as the Heart and Stroke Foundation, Swim Canada and YMCA Toronto, along with concerned parents and local swim clubs. The group's ideas ranged from looking to corporate sponsorship for funding — whether it was advertising on pool walls or selling off naming rights — to setting up a Toronto Aquatics Authority that gathered all vested parties under one umbrella.

The Toronto District School Board announced last month that it was going ahead with its decision to close 39 school pools during the next two years, because it says it does not have the money to keep them open.

The City of Toronto pays about $5-million to run programs in 33 other school pools, which will remain open, and has said that it has no more funding immediately available to pay for more. Education Minister Kathleen Wynne said that it is up to the board to find the cash within its $2.4-billion budget.

The TDSB appointed Mr. Crombie last month to see if anything can be done to save the pools, and he says he needs until September to get the job done. The group that gathered yesterday came up with ample reasons why the board should delay closing the first batch. Some were skeptical of what the board said it costs to run the 39 pools ($12-million), some questioned whether the board has the "legal right" to close pools that were paid for with tax dollars, while others said closing the pools would strain the remaining city facilities that they say are at capacity.

Anne Bell, with Swim Canada, said her working group contemplated the benefit of getting the TDSB out of the business of pools altogether, since trustees face so many other pressures. But one man argued that pools should stay in schools because it ensures access to swim lessons for children who would not otherwise afford them.

The first batch of pools are slated to close once school is out, this June. Another 16 will close next year.

"The deadline matters to a certain degree, but it's not like decisions can't be changed, if the situation changes," TDSB chairman John Campbell said in an earlier phone interview. "If the water is drained from a pool, it's pretty easy to put the water back in."

The board estimates it will cost about $500,000 to decommission the 39 school pools at a cost of $5,000 to $15,000 each.

nalcoba@nationalpost.com

BY THE NUMBERS

84 The number of pools owned by the TDSB.

9 The number of pools already decommissioned, in closed schools or slated to be reviewed in the future.

2 The number of school pools for special education.

39 The number of school pools slated to be closed by June, 2009. 1960-70 The time period when most school pools were built, although some date back to 1912.

33 The number of other school pools the City of Toronto pays for, which will remain open.

30 The number of indoor pools the city owns, along with 60 outdoor pools.