City & Politics

One year later, Sherbrook pool’s future remains uncertain

By: Marianne Cerilli, Chair of Friends of Sherbrook Pool Board; and Matt Austman, Program Coordinator of Friends of Sherbrook Pool

Built in 1931, Sherbrook Pool is one those places that’s embedded in the collective conscious of Winnipeggers, serving as both a cultural landmark and invaluable community asset.  Residents from across Winnipeg use the pool because it is accessibility and unique character.  Even if you’ve never been in it, you know it as that place Guy Maddin envisioned with three stories, pool on top of pool. 

But underlying the aesthetic and heritage are very real social needs – needs that are not served by hockey rinks, splash pads, and soccer fields. For seniors and people with chronic illnesses, such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, and multiple sclerosis, its warm waters and gentle slope are therapeutic.  For Muslim women, it’s the only pool in the city that can accommodate them thanks to its covered windows.  And for people looking for affordable recreation, the pool offered free swim hours, loonie/toonie swims, a weight room, and the free Red Cross KidSwim and TeenSwim Programs.  Considered all together, and as supported by a 2009 study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the Sherbrook Pool is a key asset to an area that is both lower-income than the city average and lacking the same recreational facilities many other communities enjoy.

Despite the hole it has left in the community, the Sherbrook Pool has remained closed since November 29, 2012.  Instead of following through on an engineer’s report that was released last June, with the funds to repair the Sherbrook Pool for $2.7-million, the City delayed a decision until the last minute, commissioning Probe Research last month to study the “recreational needs of the Daniel McIntyre ward”.  And while the City’s Sherbrook Pool web page states that it’s closed temporary, Probe referred to it as closed indefinitely at the public consultations it held in the West End in mid-November.

The Friends of Sherbrook Pool and community see the pool closure as temporary, but despite our concerns with the consultations, must wait for a report by Probe Research that holds the future of the beloved and invaluable Sherbrook Pool.

In the City’s 2014 Preliminary Budget, there is a commitment of $1 million to follow up on the Probe study recommendations.  The City Administration will interpret the results of the Probe Report and make recommendations for city council, hopefully before December 18 when they vote on the budget.

Already in the City has committed $3-million for repairs to a seasonal outdoor pool in St. Vital.  And there is a plan to cost share $140 million for three new facilities with the YMCA.

Likewise, it’s a matter of priorities.  It’s also a matter of understanding the difference in how decisions are made for the suburbs and the inner-city.

Last month at the Probe Research community meetings the message was overwhelmingly, “repair and open the Sherbrook Pool”.  This was baffling to the Probe researchers showing maps of all the other facilities and amenities in the ward that also need attention.  They didn’t understand that consultation process was over-shadowed by the closure of the pool, which should not be a surprise given the history of attempts to close the pool in the past. It’s deeply cherished by many people, and lumping it in with the splash pads and soccer fields doesn’t reflect its value.

Since the closure of the Sherbrook Pool, the City has attempted to send former users to other pools, but this has been unsuccessful. There has been no room at Cindy Klassen Pool for the Sherbrook Sharks (a kids’ swim team), and 40% of the kids have stopped attending.  The Friends of Sherbrook Pool has been offering free swimming lessons at Eldon Ross Pool in the Weston Brooklands area with 92 kids signed up, but it’s uncertain how long the Friends of Sherbrook Pool can continue to raise funds to offer lessons across town.  In scope, it all leads back to the overarching impact the pool’s closure is having on the social determinants of health, particularly for low-income families and seniors.

The Friends of Sherbrook Pool have been working to secure the $2.7 million to repair the pool, and so far we have identified about $1.7 million.   Unfortunately, we are a voice amongst others who see the pool as only an expense.  For example, the 2014 budget consultations report included a letter from the Colin Craig of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation to contract out services for City pools because they lose “$10-million per year”.

Ultimately it will be a political decision to repair the pool. City councilors should ignore Craig’s recommendation as well as other reports that recommend closing facilities, or cutting public funds for recreation.  It is abundantly clear that cutting those services is not the right path for our city.

What is perhaps most unfortunate about the City’s delays is that the $300,000 it spent on consultants and hastily scheduled consultations on the budget could have helped resolve this matter for the community and network of users that need it for their health and well-being.

Even if you are not a user of Sherbrook Pool, it’s not hard to see its benefits to the community as a whole.  And if you can recognize that, we encourage you to help by calling City Councillors and letting them know you want the 2014 City Budget to include funds to repair and reopen the Sherbrook Pool.

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