Staff shortage sinks pool reopening; other rec services threatened
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Winnipeggers won’t be diving into the pool at Cindy Klassen Recreation Complex until next spring, as concerns grow that staffing shortages will hinder recreation services citywide.
The complex was expected to reopen this month after closing for repairs in June. Instead, Cindy Klassen’s fitness centre and community meeting rooms are slated to reopen in December, while the pool won’t welcome back swimmers until April 2023, says a notice on the city’s website., which blames the delay on a staffing shortage.
“This (new reopening date) will provide time to recruit and train required lifeguards in anticipation of full operation in spring 2023, and facilitate required capital project and facility maintenance work,” the notice states.
The Harvey Smith Library, which is in the complex, is already open.
The head of the city’s largest union said municipal staff shortages are widespread, so many other recreation facilities are at risk of service reductions.
“Definitely, it’s going to impact programming. It will affect service delivery right across the board,” said Gord Delbridge, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 500.
“I think part of the problem is the City of Winnipeg, through budget cuts, have our workforce working as a skeleton crew and… with some of the labour challenges that we’re facing now, it really compounded these issues. We’re going to see it in service delivery cuts.”
Delbridge said Winnipeg has a shortage of mechanics, Zamboni drivers and other skilled workers. He said some staff have reported being denied holiday time due to the workload.
“Citywide, there’s retention and recruitment problems,” he said.
“Citywide, there’s retention and recruitment problems.”–Gord Delbridge
The union leader said a tentative, four-year collective agreement that proposes a series of wage hikes, which his members recently approved, should alleviate some retention issues. City council is expected to cast the final vote on that deal in December.
Delbridge said he’ll also pursue discussions with the city on new training and apprenticeship programs to help increase the skilled labour pool. He plans to consult with the city’s Indigenous relations division on ways to help Indigenous job applicants fill vacant city positions.
Since the Cindy Klassen pool is part of an important community hub, the delay to reopen it will cut off key recreation programs for many residents, said Daniel McIntyre Coun. Cindy Gilroy, whose ward includes the aquatic facility.
“It does have a big impact. This is one of our major pools in the city and it’s well-loved and well-used… I think it’s really important that the city makes sure (this opens) as soon as (it) can,” said Gilroy.
The councillor said the pool has free swim times and potentially lifesaving swimming lessons for children and newcomers. She said some lower-income residents don’t own cars, which could prevent them from travelling to other pools.This is one of our major pools in the city and it’s well-loved and well-used… I think it’s really important that the city makes sure (this opens) as soon as (it) can,” said Cindy Gilroy.
“In our community, not everybody is able to get in a car and drive to the other places that are open,” she said.
While Gilroy said the lifeguard shortage has affected many pools throughout Canada, she believes the city should strive to spread out staff to ensure programs continue across Winnipeg as much as possible.
“I would like to see us having more recreation services. So seeing that we’re down some critical (existing) recreation services …. I think that that’s really upsetting,” she said.
The city did not grant a request to speak with recreation officials on Thursday. In an email, spokesman Adam Campbell said the municipal government is actively recruiting to increase its current staff of 220 lifeguards to a full complement of 300.
“The impact of the pandemic, closures, layoffs, and fewer lifeguard certification courses has created a high demand for this specialized position,” wrote Campbell.
“The impact of the pandemic, closures, layoffs, and fewer lifeguard certification courses has created a high demand for this specialized position.”–Adam Campbell
The shortage also threatens to affect programs at other facilities, he noted.
“As we continue to work through these challenges, hours of service at other pools may continue (to) be impacted, the number of swimming lessons offered may be reduced, capacities may be reduced at some locations, and some features, such as hot tubs, may be infrequently closed,” wrote Campbell.
This is not the first time a staff shortage has reduced access to city pools. In August, the city confirmed 19 of Winnipeg’s 79 wading pools never opened for the 2022 season, due to an attendant shortage. The shortage also altered some service hours and resulted in temporary closures.
The city faced delays reopening the St. James Civic Centre, in that case due to construction issues. Most components of the centre reopened on Sept. 6, while the arena reopened on Sept. 25. The facility closed on April 1, 2020 to allow a major renewal project and was initially expected to reopen in June 2021.
The city blamed that delay on contractor errors, which city officials say allowed silica dust to spread throughout the facility on two occasions. The city is seeking compensation from the contractor.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.