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May. 27, 2022 | Friday
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Council sinks idea of splash pad at Simcoe Park
An illustration of a potential splash pad at Simcoe Park from 2017. The idea has met strong opposition from council and residents, both in and out of Old Town. (Supplied)

The idea of replacing the wading pool at Simcoe Park with a splash pad didn’t go swimmingly during budget discussions Monday night.

Manager of parks and recreation Kevin Turcotte offered the idea of a splash pad for kids, in the wake of changing rules surrounding pools at the regional level, but council removed the proposal from the 2020 budget almost unanimously.

Coun. Clare Cameron voiced strong concerns and said she’d rather see the pool empty than convert the area into a splash pad, if the region insists.

“When this came up at audit committee I referred to the previous discussion it generated a few years back, which was quite passionate,” said Cameron.

“It may surprise some of the newer members on council that people in the Simcoe Park area and visitors to Old Town as well have strong feelings about that wading pool. And this is a levy supported project as well, so this is one I wanted to get on the record that I’m not supporting.”

Niagara Region Public Health says pools like the one at Simcoe will soon need fencing, and already need to be treated the same as other pools, with at least two lifeguards on duty at all times it’s open.

Interim CAO Sheldon Randall said the town previously labelled the wading pool as a fountain which people sometimes bathed in, but that definition won’t work any longer.

“We’ve had a lot of challenges with the regional health department for years with this pool,” said Randall. “We always try to classify it as a water feature or a fountain that people or kids bathe in. They have come down and said, ‘no, it’s a pool,’ so we need to treat it as such.”

He said two or three years ago the town had to start staffing the pool with lifeguards, “because the pool is open and the region classifies it as a pool … so it’s costing us about $25,000 a year to have staff manage the pool when there’s water in the basin.”

He said council also asked parks and recreation to find ways of finding efficiencies.

“So we’re estimating over four or five years there will be a savings without staffing it,” he said.

“We go through the process every year that we’re likely going to have to construct a fence around it, and that is coming. I’m not sure if it’s going to be 2020 or 2021, but eventually that’s going to happen and that will change the look and feel of the pool. And again it will add costs back into that site.”

The question came up about how the pool was being sanitized. Currently staff is sanitizing it by draining and filling it daily, as well as using chlorine.

“We do have challenges keeping up with the capacity of the wading pool, and some of the activities, as you can appreciate, young kids in the pool wearing diapers and things like that. And sometimes when we have staff on they’re kicking patrons’ dogs out of the pool,” said Randall.

Turcotte said one advantage of a splash pad is that it extends the season, from as early as May to early October, depending on the weather.

Coun. Gary Burroughs said council just recently heard from members of the NOTL Museum that Simcoe Park has a strong historic value.

“I think it’s a major mistake to talk about putting a splash pad in a historic park such as Simcoe Park. And I just think what we invest and the solution that staff came to was excellent,” Burroughs said.

He said he never heard the message about fencing from the region, and understood regional officials were satisfied with the two lifeguards and some sort of phone system for emergencies.

“I’m totally against spending this money, not because of the costs, but because a splash pad would be totally inappropriate in our historic Simcoe Park.”

Coun. Wendy Cheropita said she agrees a splash pad should not be in a historic park, and that if a splash pad were to come to Old Town, it should be in another location.

Turcotte said the pool was renovated in the 1990s and doesn’t have a heritage value. Council agreed the proposal should go to the Municipal Heritage Committee for recommendation.

“I do believe there is some kind of significance to that actual pool. It’s not designated by a bylaw but it has been some form of wading pool or water feature with actual water in it for some time in that corner of the park,” said Cameron.

Lord Mayor Betty Disero echoed comments about strong resident opposition to removing the pool.

“The last time this was in front of council a couple of years ago there was a major outcry from residents in the Old Town particular, although there was also people that weren’t from Old Town that lived in other parts of NOTL that said don’t do it.”

She said to many the pool has become a “symbol of the protection and the preservation of our history in Niagara-on-the-Lake.”