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The option of giving people what they say they want

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Cornwall’s outdoor pools present a useful lesson in the choices made when it comes to offering an optional, expensive, but desired, service to area residents.

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A survey of just over 1,300 people as part of the draft recreation master plan showed strong support for the city’s outdoor pools.

They’re closer to most homes in Cornwall than the aquatic centre. They offer a recreational activity during the peak heat of the summer, and are home to swimming lessons for our community’s youth — though none were held at these pools in 2020 given the pandemic.

Given these emotional and important community attachments to these facilities, it’s not at all surprising the loss of some of them was met with disdain. Any suggestion of the loss of another is always enough to ignite a lively conversation.

It cost $234,100 to run the five facilities in 2020, a year where the programming at each was reduced, there were stricter caps on the number of swimmers and the amount of time per day, but that offered more free swims than in previous years.

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The outdoor pool season in Cornwall isn’t a long one in a usual year, running only from mid-June to mid-August. That’s over $15,000 a month, per pool— every penny of which would be considered well spent for those who use the outdoor pools, or have fond memories of using them. That spending though, is equivalent to 77 per cent of the costs of operating the aquatic centre for 12 months— though in a year where the centre was closed for three months, and also did not resume programming and capacities at pre-pandemic levels.

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Their seasonal nature makes them less cost-efficient, which is why as these facilities start to need bigger-budget repairs to maintain them, they often end up being recommended for closure. In the long run, it makes more financial sense to invest in year-round pools, not seasonal ones.

That’s not the current approach in the draft master plan, or from those running the aquatics programs and facilities. This year’s budget includes a filtration system replacement. A study on the pool tanks is expected soon, and the 10-year capital forecast included in the 2021 budget includes $100,000 per year starting in 2020 for structural repairs to those basins.

The city runs as many pools as exist in all of SDG’s townships— where one is operated by a hospital. That comes at a higher cost than in those townships, for a service that is valued and appreciated.

It’s a good example of how the city decided to offer and continue to invest in an optional service, to the benefit of what residents want, at a cost to its balance sheet.

hrodrigues@postmedia.com

twitter.com/HugoAPRodrigues

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