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Don’t Be Crool To Your Pool

2007_06_03pools3.jpgHealth Canada reports that over half of Canadian kids aged five to 17 are not physically active enough for optimal growth and development. The number of overweight boys ballooned from 15 percent in 1981 to 35.4 percent in 1996; the percentage of overweight girls expanded from 15 percent to 29.2 percent. In less than a generation, obesity in children tripled. As anyone who has tried to lose a few kilos knows, it is easier to prevent overweight and obesity than to treat it.
If prevention is the key, why would anyone want to close a school’s pool … or shut them down by the half-dozen? Last Wednesday, approximately 150 people packed a community meeting at Keele Street Junior Public School to protest the slated closing of their school’s pool and five others. Students wrote letters, drew pictures, and even donned their bathing suits to show how much swimming means to them. The next day, their letters were hand-delivered to Ontario Education Minister Kathleen Wynne during Question Period. A group of parents was present at the Legislature to witness the event.
Local MP Peggy Nash said that all levels of government are to blame: “Everybody’s passing the buck.” She’s trying to obtain surplus federal funds for the cash-strapped city, and said, “As a neighbour, an MP, and as a human being, I think it’s a dumb idea to close the pool.” The MP, whose husband swims in the pool every day, sat on a panel with MPP Cheri DiNovo, Councillor Bill Saundercook, Councillor Gord Perks, Toronto District School Board Trustee Irene Atkinson, and Mountivew Alternative School Parent Council Co-Chair Jim Adams.
The Keele Pool is shared by Mountview, Keele Public, and a community centre housed in the same complex. Its loss would be a blow to the neighbourhood, which contains more children per capita than any area in Canada. At the pool, not only do kids learn how to swim–they also learn drown-proofing and life-saving skills. If Keele closes, kids will be turned away, and waiting lists at neighbouring pools will be even longer than they are now. Other parents in this economically split neighbourhood can’t afford to pay for lessons, so many children will grow up without learning to swim.

In 2002, the provincial government vowed to keep the pools open indefinitely. MPP Cheri DiNovo says that the Ontario government “has the money, but they’re not going to spend it on you.”
2007_06_03pools2.jpgTrustee Irene Atkinson said the city could pay for the pool only if another programme is cut to fund it. The Toronto District School Board owns 78 swimming pools which cost $15.3 million annually to run, and about $8 million to repair. No money is received from the province. The City was funding 41 of the pools, but can no longer afford it. As a result, five pools alongside Keele are slated to close this year: Newtonbrook Collegiate, R.H. King Academy, SATEC at W.A. Porter Collegiate, Lawrence Park Collegiate, and George Harvey Collegiate.
Mountview Co-Chair Jim Adams said that the campaign against closing the facilities is currently considering short term solutions: raising money needed to keep the pools open until a long term solution can be found, asking the city to redirect funds back to Keele Pool, and even seeking corporate donations as a short term fix. The Keele group plans to link up with others affected by the cuts to build a wider coalition that could press Queen’s Park for long term funding solutions. Councillor Gord Perks said that any short-term solution is only a Band-Aid for a larger problem. “We need to heal the wound–which is fixing how the province funds education.”
Obese children have an increased risk of becoming obese adults. Paediatricians are seeing a rise in the incidence of type 2 diabetes, childhood hyperlipidemia, and hypertension in overweight children. Compared to the present and future health care costs, our pools are a bargain: money should be allotted to creating more swimming programmes, not to mothballing pools. If an ounce of prevention is a pound of cure, there are many pounds at stake.


  • Mark Dowling

    The Globe and Mail covered this yesterday:
    From the article:
    Someone else asks how much it would take to keep the pool open. No one on the panel wants to focus on that, except the MP. Ms. Nash leans over to Councillor Bill Saundercook and whispers, “What does the city need to keep the pool open?”
    Mr. Saundercook, his eyes down, shakes his head. “Don’t know.”
    Mr. Nash whispers, “Can you find out?”
    Mr. Saundercook doesn’t reply.

  • Steph

    Wonderfully written article.

  • Kevin Bracken

    One of these days a doctor will be straight with the public and start prescribing methamphetamine for obesity.

  • Ken Hunt

    Swimming pools in schools are an absurd luxury. They are expensive to staff, repair, maintain and insure. If you are really concerned about physical education, there are FAR cheaper ways to get exercise. Outdoor sports, running, basketball, etc., are all good forms of exercise, and these programs have already been gutted, along with music programs, etc.
    Toronto is one of the very few school districts that still maintains swimming pools. In most places they were scrapped long ago. To people who grew up in other municipalities, like myself (London, Ont), were swimming pools in schools were completely unheard of, the constant complaints about closing pools in school seems like nothing more than whining.
    Public swimming pools are a great idea. They just belong in community centres, not in schools. They should not be tied to education budgets and they dollars they cost should not take money away from our already cash-strapped schools.

  • Sharon Harris

    The Keele Pool is part of the Keele Community Centre and is used by the neighbourhood. It offers family recreational swims, distance swims, and slots time dedicated to seniors.
    I grew up in Sarnia–not far from you!–where there were few school pools because we swam at the beach all summer. Everyone knew how to swim. In Toronto, Lake Ontario is a different situation.
    Almost every kid likes to swim, but not every child enjoys team sports, running, or gymnastics. A child who grows up swimming is more likely to continue swimming as an adult (if you employ the current reasoning of corporations who heavily market their products to kids–they like to get ‘em young, so they’re hooked for life).
    Swimming is a sport that you can do your whole life. You don’t need a team or even a partner. It can be therapeutic after an injury, it eases stress, it’s non-competitive, and it’s wonderful exercise for pregnant women. But if you never learned to swim as a child, you might feel foolish “diving in” for the first time later in life.
    It’s also a safety issue–the kids learn rules to keep them safe around water, and how to proceed in emergencies.
    I would say the pools are an expense, yes, but as I wrote–the health costs will be exponentially higher if people aren’t getting enough exercise.
    And right you are, Ken–the public schools don’t get enough funding.

  • Ken Hunt

    Everything thing you write about what a great activity swimming is true. But the vast majority of Canadians learn to swim without swimming pools in their elementary schools and high schools. I learned to swim at an outdoor public pool and on occasional car-trips to the beach, like almost everyone I grew up with.
    I think it’s great that the public uses this pool. That makes the point even more strongly that the money to fund it should not be coming from the TDSB, or the education budget in general. If this is a community pool, then it should be funded by the city. If the city can’t afford it (because no one wants to raise taxes, god forbid) then the pool gets shut down. Like everything else, we love public pools, we just refuse to pay for them.
    And as far as swimming in the lake goes, Toronto is actually much better off than most places in Ontario. Toronto has many public beaches that are perfectly fit for swimming the vast majority of the summer. The myth that it’s not safe to swim in Lake Ontario is just that: a myth. Water safety readings are taken each day of the season and the results are available on the web, as well as posted at the beaches themselves. (Which are also staffed with lifeguards.) How many other cities in Ontario can boast the same level of safety monitoring for their public beaches? How many have a beach that is accessible by public transit?

  • Carrie

    Ken — London did have a few swimming pools in schools (Beal was one of them), although I couldn’t tell you if they’re still open.
    Re: learning to swim at the beach…that may be a great place to GO swimming, but not the best place to learn how to swim, that’s for sure! I was very lucky that I was enrolled in a pre-school that taught me how to swim (and dive…and horseback ride, actually), but even sending kids to a public pool these days can be a strain on finances for low-income families (with multiple kids), let alone having them pay for lessons.
    Yeah, the TDSB is totally underfunded, and it would be nice to see some of the rich donors pouring money into these types of services instead of paying millions just to see their name on a building (even though, yes, that money also serves a purpose).

  • Ken Hunt

    I think we’re all basically on the same page on most points. Swimming is great. It would be great if more kids swam. Learning to swim when you’re young is far easier than learning to swim when you’re older. There is a childhood (and adult!) obesity issue in our country, and any thing that reduces outlets for activity, especially one as fun as swimming, is a bad thing. I think all of that is beyond dispute.
    It would be absolutely great if we could afford swimming pools in schools. It would also be great if I could afford a swimming pool in my backyard, but that’s not happening either. Considering all the other things that are getting cut in education, pools seem like a real luxury. There are a lot of cheaper ways of fighting obesity, all of them can be fun, and few of them run the risk of somebody dying if kids are left unattended. If childhood obesity is really the primary concern (it is the centre of the argument in this piece) then money is more effectively spent on nutritional education and basic fitness programs. They may not be as fun, but they are cheaper and more targeted at the goal.
    Another point we haven’t discussed is that swimming can be one of the most embarrassing activities for overweight children. It’s easier to get away with comfortable sweats on the playground than revealing swimsuits at the pool. Cultural differences also complicate the willingness of families and their children to participate in swimming (especially co-ed swimming.) These add to the argument that swimming isn’t the best, or most sensitive, way to fight childhood obesity.
    It’s sad that pools have to close. But the money to fund them shouldn’t be coming from education budgets and if communities aren’t willing to step up and fund pools and lessons, then those things will die.

  • Raven

    About a month ago there were 2 other pools that were also on the city’s “stop funding list” (but that’s changed for now) — one city owned, and the other TSDB owned.
    The TSDB one was S.H. Armstrong (it is a community center attached to a public primary school) and apparently the city agreed to fund that one for another year.
    Good thing too — apparently this past weekend “a pipe broke” at Jimmie Simpson (which has TWO popular pools and lots of city-run programs) and all of the activities got diverted to S.H. Armstrong and Matty Eckler.

  • Lopes

    Billions to be spent on enviromentaly expensive nuclear, and a paultry trifle to be saved on closing pools. Just because other municipalities don’t have schools and pools tied together dosent mean its a bad idea I would like to know just how much it costs to keep them open. Havent heard about that….What about hter scocial costs of closing the pools….dont hear about that either. What kind of a dialogue is toronto having on the issue anyway what is going on.