After a lengthy budget meeting that lasted well into the wee hours of February 15th, city councillors voted against funding that would have preserved city programming at S.H. Armstrong pool.
On an amendment that would have returned money cut from the pool as part of the 2017 budget, council voted against ward 32 councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon’s bid to save the pool. The budget passed with a 27-16 vote.
The Duke of Connaught/S.H. Armstrong pool is one the TDSB pools in the city that has required annual city funding to operate because of the provincial funding model, with the school and the city sharing the space. The city has opted to move city programming from three of these pools to other city pools nearby in an attempt to save around $200,000.
But according to Toronto District School Board communications officer Ryan Bird, even with the vote against funding, city programming will continue for the remainder of the school year.
But he is less certain that it can continue long-term.
“Given that the city has cut funding for pools (including community use of pools), the board will also have to assess whether we can keep these pools open for community use after school hours,” he said.
The outcome comes after weeks of heated discussions that even involved Olympian Penny Oleksiak, a defender of S.H. Armstrong’s programming.
The decision followed a city executive committee meeting on February 7 where the votes were not as close.
At that meeting, McMahon introduced motions to amend two items on the agenda, One, to increase the city’s 2017 parks, forest and recreation operating budget by $85,000 as a way to reverse potential cuts to the S.H. Armstrong pool and keep city programming at the community centre. But this option was quickly taken off the table following an 8-4 vote against it by committee members, including Mayor John Tory who voted no despite earlier tweets that suggested his support for saving the pool.
McMahon had also motioned to establish a working committee that would include representatives from the Toronto District School Board, surrounding community, and city staff to work on a plan that would increase the number of people and groups using the pool. The committee would be expected to report findings to the Community Department and Recreation Committee by the fourth quarter of 2017.
Although McMahon’s motion to transfer city programming was ultimately defeated, she said she was heartened to find that her second motion to establish a working committee to increase utilization of the pool was carried and had stated she was “hopeful that we will live to fight another day at council.”
But despite a good fight by residents, many of whom braved the snow and cold on February 12 to rally against the closure, including McMahon and a host of other avid supporters like ward 31 councillor Janet Davis, and Jennifer Story, Trustee for the Toronto-Danforth TDSB, it wasn’t enough to convince council as a whole to keep paying for the pool.
Moving forward, Bird promised to “keep all impacted communities informed as we move through the TDSB’s process.”
This article has been updated.