Summer may seem a long way off, but St. Davids residents want assurance that when it arrives, they will have a swimming pool for lessons and family swims, and that the town still remains committed to building a new pool, as promised.
It’s been a long wait, with the pool no closer to reality than when candidates assured residents during the 2018 election campaign they would have a new pool.
In the summer of 2019, residents got their first look at a preliminary design for a four-lane pool, estimated at $2 to $2.5 million. Two months later, a revised design with more elements, including a six-lane facility, brought the price up to $3 to 3.5 million.
By February of 2020, the final design showed a pool expected to cost $5 million. The town applied for a federal/provincial infrastructure grant of $4.74 million, and the 2020 budget included $100,000 for the pool. A fundraising committee was struck with a campaign goal that would depend on the success of the grant, but was expected to be set at $1 million.
In the summer of 2020, residents of the village found themselves with an empty hole in the ground and no place to swim. After a long hot spell and a taste of the reality of summer without a place for families to gather and kids to cool off, they protested the town’s decision not to open their community pool, gathering on the York Road property with signs asking for the pool to be open. It remained closed, residents were told, based on extra costs due to COVID.
The pool was successfully opened last summer, the year residents had been promised they would be swimming in a brand new facility.
Resident Adriana Vizzari wants to be sure her kids, and her friends and neighbours’ kids, will have somewhere to swim this summer.
She joined the pool fundraising committee when it was formed in 2020, but it has pretty much fallen by the wayside, with most members having difficulty mustering enthusiasm for the stalled project.
It’s been hard enough to fundraise during COVID, says Vizzari, and once the town learned it was not going to receive the grant as anticipated, more momentum was lost.
At the last virtual fundraising committee meeting in November, Vizzari was the only resident to attend, along with Coun. Gary Burroughs and operations director Kevin Turcotte.
There has been money raised — about $55,000 so far — but without a grant from other levels of government, they can’t proceed with a $5 million pool.
“I’m super disappointed, and very frustrated,” says Vizzari.
“I understand the concerns with COVID, but it seems like we don’t have the support of the town any longer. We’re not making any headway at all. We don’t even know if we have a committee at this point.”
Vizzari is hoping for assurances the pool can open this summer, even if it means putting money into fixing it. And if the town remains committed to a new pool, and makes some decisions about moving forward in the next few weeks, hopefully the fundraising committee can be re-energized.
“That would be great. It’s been so long since the committee was formed, we might even get some new members. I think as long as the town is transparent about what they’re planning, we can move ahead.”
Both Burroughs and Lord Mayor Betty Disero are anxious to see that happen.
Burroughs has suggested a meeting in the next week or two to determine if the current design can be modified to a more affordable pool.
“We’re going to have to revamp it. We went in with a Cadillac plan and no money. We will never be able to fund a project like that without the support of upper levels of government.”
Burroughs says when the grant was submitted, everything was handled by staff, but to successfully apply for grants from the federal and provincial government, politicians have to get involved and plead their case. He called on Disero recently to contact MP Tony Baldinelli and MPP Wayne Gates, hoping they will help find grants that might fund the pool.
Burroughs says St. Davids will get a new pool, but it may not be a $5 million facility, and definitely won’t be without a successful grant application.
“We have to be realistic. The committee is struggling to meet, feeling like it’s a lost cause. Residents have waited a long time. What we thought we could build for them was a fabulous setup, but we have no money. What we proposed was too big of a project. Hopefully we can meet and agree on something, so we don’t lose another year.”
If a grant can be obtained by the spring, residents could have their pool by 2023, but no sooner than that, he said. “We’ll look at what we can afford. It may not have all the upgrades, but it will be a great pool.”
Disero has already had her meeting with Baldinelli and Gates, as Burroughs requested, to ensure the town has their support. “They are both committed to looking for grant applications that might be forthcoming,”
She agrees it may be time to go back to the drawing board and look at whether the current design is too elaborate, and what, if any, modifications can be made to reduce costs, “while considering the needs of the community first and foremost.” She also suggested phasing in some of the components, and agrees, one way or another, St. Davids will get a pool.
However fundraising is key, she adds. “We need to have at least one/third of the cost to contribute.”
To that end, last week she put a motion before the planning committee that was approved, although not unanimously, to sell two pieces of municipal property and put the revenue into a reserve fund to help pay for the pool.
One of the properties is at the end of Anne Street, bordering onto Butler Street — a portion of that sale would likely be spent on a turn-around, the rest directed to the pool.
The other is the piece of land on East and West Line behind the high school, which the municipality held on to when it sold the property to be used as a school for international students.
Disero has been approached by people interested in buying the property, which is considered green space, but it has to go through the proper channels, she says.
She hopes a report from staff will come to council soon, outlining the process to declare the properties surplus, sell them, and have some money to put toward the pool. “We’ve committed to doing it, so let’s finish it off.”
Vizzari says the upcoming election may work in favour of the residents — candidates who promised a pool in 2018 will not want to still be campaigning on it for their next term of office.
And really, she adds, she just wants a pool, and she thinks other residents will feel the same way.
“All the bells and whistles they were offering were awesome, but I guess I was naive. I didn’t know they might be a deterrent to getting a pool. People just want a functional pool for their kids to have lessons and swim. Even this pool we have now is great — it did its job. We can’t go back through time, we just want something going forward. If it’s going to be another election issue, four years later with no headway, that’s not okay.”