In November last year, the city closed the Sherbrook Pool, leaving the community and its dedicated swimmers high and dry. The closure was the result of corrosion of the structure.
A City of Winnipeg assessment of an engineer's report released last week indicates the pool needs $2.7 million in immediate repairs. Maintenance costs will total $3.5 million over the next 20 years. The property and development committee received the report and accepted its one recommendation: to have community consultations in the Daniel McIntyre ward.
Since the city's report was narrowly focused on structural issues and some usage data, it is curious why the city is now undertaking consultations on the recreation needs of the area, especially when there is so much support and demonstrated need for the Sherbrook Pool.
The community has spoken clearly through two public meetings and community-based research about the need to retain and invest in the pool. Furthermore, it is unclear when the consultations will begin -- leaving residents without a local pool and its future unknown.
Built in 1931, Sherbrook Pool has long stood as a Winnipeg icon. The facility fulfils an important need and value in the inner city, one that cannot be found through simply comparing user rates with other city facilities.
In 2009, I was involved in a year-long research project around Sherbrook Pool. Key stakeholders in the community were consulted, an extensive literature review of the barriers, costs and benefits of recreation were analyzed and the pool's history was written.
The report, Winnipeg's Best-Kept Secret: A Community Development Vision for Sherbrook Pool, made clear the need for the pool and the extensive health benefits to the community and to individuals who have been regular swimmers at the pool (some for over 50 years), as well as to the larger society.
People living in low-income neighbourhoods face significant barriers to recreation. Chief among these is poverty, which leaves families unable to afford to send their kids to programs and a lack of transportation to get them there. A Canadian Parks and Recreation Association study indicated cost and transportation are the two main barriers to families accessing recreation.
Sherbook is one of the few pools inner-city residents can get to on foot. Before the November closure, the pool offered a high number of free swim hours or low-cost loonie or toonie swims. The Friends of Sherbrook Pool (FOSP) offer free swim lessons, including a bathing suit, for the neighbourhood kids. Additionally, many groups call the Sherbrook Pool their recreational home. The pool rents space to the Canadian Muslim Women's Institute, which runs a women-only swim so Muslim women can learn to swim while following their religious traditions. Chemosavvy, a group of breast-cancer survivors, train for dragon-boat races at the pool. People with arthritis, multiple sclerosis abd fibromyalgia come from all over the city for the pool's warm waters and large shallow area.
The pool is also home to the Sherbrook Sharks, a swim club of local youth, West Broadway Youth Outreach and many other groups within walking distance.
The cost of repairing Sherbrook Pool is not high, and the upgrades would keep the pool open for 20 years at a fraction of the cost of tearing down and building new. The tank itself is in good condition and if there were the political will to invest in inner-city recreation, there would even be opportunities to upgrade the existing facility.
Mayor Sam Katz has said the FOSP should apply to the province for recreation funding to repair the facility, even before the consultations start.
The mayor himself knows the value of the facility to the inner city, but he wants other funding partners.
The need for consultation is questionable -- the entire inner city, not just Daniel MacIntyre ward, benefits from this facility. The FOSP believe the repairs to the pool should be made as soon as possible and the consultations should focus on a long-term plan.
The community has spoken, and will speak again. The Sherbrook Pool is a key piece of infrastructure for the health and recreation needs of our city.
Lissie Rappaport is a research associate with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives -- Manitoba.