Pools out for summer: ND keeping them closed

North Dundas Mayor Tony Fraser, presiding over the June 30, 2020, meeting.

Nelson Zandbergen
Nation Valley News

WINCHESTER — North Dundas Council has pulled the plug on the 2020 pool season after pondering a flood of pandemic-related logistical challenges, including the prospect of young lifeguards enforcing potentially unpopular restrictions on an already stressed-out public.

“People will be led to believe that they have an opportunity to swim, and I think that opportunity is going to be very limited to many people,” said Mayor Tony Fraser, reflecting on the option to open the Chesterville and Winchester pools for the remaining seven weeks on the swim calendar  —  subject to the serious constraints laid out in a report by Meaghan Meerburg, Director of Recreation and Culture.

“It’s going to be very difficult to satisfy and offer a product that we have proudly offered in the past, and it’s not going to be the product that we would be proud to offer…. It’s not going to be the product that people expect it to be,” added the mayor, suggesting it was “easy” for the local health unit and the province to raise expectations of pools reopening, “when it’s not an easy thing to put into place and to satisfy the whole.”

Fraser and his colleagues chose to keep the pools closed during the June 30 meeting live-streamed from the Council Chambers — the first such discussion conducted in person in weeks (while maintaining social distance) because of the issue’s importance.

“Listen, 2020 sucks, and this is part of it, unfortunately,” declared Deputy Mayor Al Armstrong, after laying out the difficulties inherent to adhering to new COVID-19 rules at the pools, including the continued closure of washrooms and change rooms even if swimmers were allowed to return.

Other hurdles included: a strict half-hour-by-appointment-only public swim schedule that would curtail each pool’s usage to a maximum of 16 individuals or households per day; maintaining social distancing between households by keeping them in three separate lanes; a half-hour sanitization period between each swim period; entry times staggered in 10-minute increments; health pre-screening of swimmers; and other restrictions.

Below, North Dundas Council deliberates on the pool-closure issue.

Noting it would fall to lifeguards to “sort out” and deal with the fallout, the situation would be “unfair to everybody,” said Armstrong. “People will be disappointed we closed the pool, and I’m sure it’s another thing to be sad about. But there’s a lot of worse things going on than not having a pool.”

Saying he had hoped North Dundas would get “some use” out of both pools this season, Councillor John Thompson was similarly dissuaded by the regulatory burden. “I think it’s going to be hard to monitor and to keep the public happy … compared to a normal season.”

“It certainly seems like a logistical nightmare,” agreed Councillor Gary Annable.

Meerburg and her team developed the made-in-North-Dundas strategy for complying with health unit and provincial regulations. Her report also envisioned curtailed swimming lessons accommodating fewer than a third of the regular number of registrants. Lifeguards would don special “water masks” in the event they needed to assist a swimmer in the water — requiring special training to ensure their proper use — and would otherwise wear face shields when on land. Two additional staff would need to be hired because of the additional entry and sanitization procedures at the pools. Floating devices like pool noodles would be prohibited, and the township would cease renting out goggles and selling popsicle treats. Drinking-water fountains would also be shut off — among a litany of details.

Meerburg also acknowledged the possibility of “frustrated people” taking out their anger on lifeguards trying to oversee such rules. She consequently recommended a staff safety policy cancelling the future swim bookings of anyone deemed to be harassing the lifeguards. The pool would close for the day entirely if the harassment didn’t stop, she advised, also raising the possibility of hiring security.

Her report also looked at neighbouring municipalities, with only Cornwall and Russell planning to have pools open in a limited capacity.

Council’s decision was unanimous; Councillor Tyler Hoy participated off-site by telephone.

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