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Plea to save east-TO pool shot down by Tory and executive committee

Mary-Margaret McMahon speaks to her motion to save Connaught pool at Executive Committee meeting 170207 -SCREEN CAPTURE

Mary-Margaret McMahon speaks to her motion to save Connaught pool at Executive Committee meeting 170207 -SCREEN CAPTURE

\ By Gary Webb-Proctor \ 170207, 18:00

Despite impassioned pleas from East York area councillors to save the Duke Of Connaught pool at S.H. Armstrong Community Centre on Woodfield Road from being closed, Toronto City Council’s Executive Committee this afternoon shot down a motion by Ward 32 rep Mary-Margaret McMahon to restore its funding.

Ms. McMahon’s request, which would have cost the city $85,000 in the coming fiscal year, was defeated 8-4, with Mayor John Tory among those voting nay despite earlier responding “Gold medal message received” to a January tweet by East York student and historic Olympic multiple-gold medal-winning swimmer Penny Oleksiak urging the pool be saved.

The “mayor tweeted he would support pool to Penny Oleksiak. Got lots of media attention and applause. Today he broke that promise,” tweeted Ward 15 Toronto District School Board trustee Jennifer Story, whose ward is adjacent to the area, in response to East York Chronicle‘s request for a comment after the vote.  She had previously spoken out against cuts to the pool program and other social and school-related services, such as daycare subsidies, at public input meetings held in January at East York Civic Centre.

The city, in an arrangement similar to what it has with some day care operations, provides the TDSB with a subsidy in order to ensure pools it owns or operates are also available to the broader community.

The TDSB uses the pool for its Duke of Connaught Public School programs but also makes it available for community programming run by the city.

Jennifer Story -STAFF

Jennifer Story -STAFF

But while Mr. Tory himself moved the motion to recommend restoration of funding for “occupancy grants” it pays the TDSB as daycare cost subsidies and spoke at length about that issue, he made no comment on the matter of the pool subsidy before voting against it.

Paula Fletcher addresses council's Executive Committee 170207 -SCREEN CAPTURE

Paula Fletcher addresses council’s Executive Committee 170207 -SCREEN CAPTURE

The fate of the pool now rests in council’s hands when the budget is voted on at the Feb. 15 meeting.  Deputations are not allowed on the matter at that meeting, but Story was urging residents who are part of a “Save SH Armstrong/Duke of Connaught Community Pool” group on Facebook to “focus now on a council vote” and to remind the media and others of the mayor’s broken promise in his January tweet.

“He got a lot of good press on that and effectively had us all lose momentum only to find out from [Budget Committee Chair Gary] Crawford days later his promise was off the table,” Story wrote in a message to the group after the vote.

Earlier in the meeting the committee was told by Ms. McMahon and Ward 30 Councillor Paula Fletcher that the pool serves as an important “community hub” to the nearby area.

In addition to being the only pool readily available to residents at nearby Toronto Community Housing Corporation units, it would potentially also serve the needs of newly arrived refugee families and also the 70 people anticipated to be housed at a new shelter being constructed on Leslie Avenue, the two councillors said.

Both McMahon, who is a member of the executive group, and Fletcher, who is not, noted that many of the residents of the nearby TCHC units did not realize that the pool facility was available for their use and had urged study of that and developing a plan to increase awareness of its existence.

Ms. Fletcher had noted that $10 million in originally proposed cuts had already been restored by the committee, citing, for example, Mayor Tory’s announcement yesterday that he would be moving to reinstate “occupancy grants” paid to the TDSB to subsidize day care service rates.

“I’ve heard it said that we’re only removing the subsidy paid to the TDSB.  But we are actually closing the pool part of our community centre, built many years ago, actually physically built onto the school to use the gym and the pool as a community centre once the school is closed.

“If that sounds familiar as a community hub that’s what’s going on.  One of our AOPs, Applegrove, was also built onto that centre.  It’s a true community hub and unique situation, one of only two in the city.”

The board of directors of the Applegrove Community Complex, among many others in the local area, wrote to the committee to urge it to reconsider the cuts so the pool would remain open.

In what seemed like an ironically bizarre and somewhat pointless follow-up vote, the committee did overwhelmingly approve a second part of McMahon’s original motion urging formation of a committee of representatives from the city, TDSB and community to develop a plan “that increases utilization of the pool’s capacity” by the fourth quarter of this year.

That would seem to leave the future of the pool in limbo, since, with funding withdrawn after the school year ends, it can’t effectively operate without the community programming subsidy from the city.

“Without City dollars, the working committee will be a debating club with no action —if it meets at all. All smoke and mirrors,” commented one member of the Facebook group formed to try to save the pool.

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