Fully accessible options in Niagara-on-the-Lake for residents who want to swim during the fall and winter are almost non-existent – unless you fancy a dip in the chilly waters of the Niagara River or Lake Ontario.
However, some have been pushing for years to bring a public indoor pool to town, and they hope this year’s efforts will pay off.
At a group meeting on Monday morning at Sweets and Swirls Cafe, about 18 residents discussed how they can convince the town to invest in a new indoor pool.
The group has collected 148 online signatures and 100 in-person ones in support of a new pool.
Its Facebook group has 103 members so far.
Elizabeth Oliver-Malone, who was at the meeting, said many of their group used to do aquafit, or water aerobics, at the Pillar and Post, back when Vintage Hotels offered spa memberships.
Oliver-Malone said the hotel chain discontinued the membership program during the pandemic and hasn’t brought it back.
Garron Wells, also at the meeting, said it was an affordable option at the time and has left many in the group without a good location to practise aquafit.
“The pools are just available for paying guests,” Wells added.
This is not the first time residents have pressed council for a pool.
The last effort was in 2018 and the first was in 2013.
Wells said she didn’t take much notice of those efforts at the time, as she was able to practise aquafit at Vintage Hotels.
“Now there’s nothing. Nothing for a community pool,” she said.
In 2018, the town formed a pool committee to investigate the cost of building an aquatics centre from the ground up and concluded it could cost anywhere between $6 million and $12 million.
The proposal died then and there.
Paolo Miele was on town council at the time and remains a fierce advocate for community recreational facilities.
Everything worth having costs money, Miele said, and councillors are in a position to make some hard decisions.
“You need five councillors that are not afraid to make those decisions,” he said.
Cost be damned, Wells said she’d like to see a pool “before we’re dead.”
The group was made up of mostly seniors and Wells wasn’t the only one to point it out.
Dawn McIssac, who’s been running the group’s Facebook page, said they aren’t getting any younger and they could be waiting a long time if they want an aquatics centre built from the ground up.
Resident Sue Henry pointed to some existing alternatives for the group, but said they didn’t quite satisfy their needs.
White Oaks Resort and Spa offers aquafit classes, but it charges a membership fee of $111 per month for seniors and $127 per month for adults.
That is expensive for what the group says are just a few aquafit classes.
“The other alternative that I found was St. Catharines,” Henry said.
However, spots in the aquafit classes at the St. Catharines Kiwanis Aquatics Centre are booked online and, Henry said, the centre gives first priority to St. Catharines residents.
And Nancy Macri said driving to St. Catharines can be “treacherous” in the winter, especially when crossing the Carlton bridge, which spans the canal.
Macri pointed out an indoor pool would also help people who need hydrotherapy to recover from knee and hip surgeries.
Marianna Peca was one of the few at the meeting with kids in swimming lessons.
She and several other group members were on the same page when they argued the town needs a pool so kids can learn to swim.
Sheila Serio, who leads the group, said this was one of the biggest reasons she got involved.
She was inspired to get it started after reading an editorial that argued that kids need public pools so they can learn about water safety and avoid drowning.
Coun. Sandra O’Connor was at the group meeting to offer the residents advice. She pointed out that the bottom line for council will be the cost of the project.
However, she pointed out then town’s aquatic services are different now, given people have less access to hotel pools, like those at Vintage Hotels.
“Whatever you’re doing, you have to have a specific ask when you come forward,” she added.
McIsaac said it would be much cheaper if the town built a dome over one of the outdoor pools to make it accessible during the winter.
Collingwood took this approach in 2013 when it built an enclosure over an outdoor pool.
Several members at the group pointed out that smaller towns than NOTL have indoor community pools.
McIssac posted an example in Saugeen Shores to the group’s Facebook page Wednesday morning.
Saugeen Shores is spending $50 million on a new aquatic centre without raising taxes.
According to the town’s website, much of the project will be covered using development charges and operational costs.
In a draft letter to Lord Mayor Gary Zalepa, Serio said the town could use grants from various levels of government to help offset the cost of the project.
She also said “corporate sponsorship and donations” would be an essential piece of the financial puzzle.
And like Saugeen Shores is doing with its pool, Serio suggests the town use membership fees to help cover the cost.
O’Connor pointed out that the town would likely want to investigate a pool proposal as part of its parks and recreation master plan, which she said would be brought to council in the fall.
Miele said master plans like these are “bull—-.”
He predicted that when the plan comes out it will likely only call for upgrades to existing infrastructure.
If council wants a new pool, he said it needs to stay committed to that goal.
Peca suggested they could work with some of the other groups across town looking for better aquatic programs.
She suggested they work with a group in St. Davids, for example, which wants to have the St. Davids pool repaired.
Reconstruction costs for the St. Davids pool were evaluated at $5 million in February 2020.
Coun. Adrianna Vizzari, who sat on a fundraising committee for the St. Davids pool under the previous council, told The Lake Report council was reinstating the old St. Davids pool committee this fall.
If that committee sticks to its mandate, it will be tasked with fundraising the cost of repairing the pool in St. Davids.
Miele said it makes more sense to build something new if repairing the St. Davids pool is going to be so expensive.
In addition to the residents in St. Davids, O’Connor said there is also a group in Glendale advocating for an indoor community pool.
She said that residents have suggested a community pool could be built with a future French high school in Glendale.
Though talks with the French school board have been positive, O’Connor said, “There’s nothing concrete.”