The Town of Castor struggled with the decision on whether or not to open the municipal swimming pool, made no easier by the provincial government’s announcement June 9.
Councillors made the decision by vote to open the public swimming pool as soon as possible, the decision being made at a special meeting of council conducted via social media June 11.
Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Christopher Robblee summarized some of the province’s rules for public pools, one being that a COVID-19 observer must be present at all times.
Robblee added the financial situation of opening the pool hadn’t changed, as the town could save about $53,000 by leaving it closed for the summer.
He noted his recommendation was to open the pool regardless, for social reasons.
Robblee also stated swimmers must phone ahead and reserve a spot, no one will be allowed in the pool otherwise.
“You can’t just show up,” said Robblee. “If you just show up, we would turn you away.”
During discussions, councillors voiced concerns about a few issues, such as staffing, but all agreed the pool should open.
The vote to open the pool was unanimous.
Robblee noted staff would begin the process June 15.
Councillors first discussed the issue of whether or not to open the municipal swimming pool at their regular meeting June 8, one day before Premier Jason Kenney announced swimming pools would be allowed to reopen under the provincial strategy, phase 2.
The council meeting was conducted via social media to meet social distancing guidelines.
The issue was presented by CAO Robblee.
“Considering there are summer staff waiting to hear what action the town will take with the pool, the costs surrounding opening the pool, timing and other factors, administration believes it is time for council to have a conversation on this topic,” stated Robblee in his report to council.
“The pool takes a minimum of two weeks to start, clean, circulate and get approvals in place. This is before the pool would be open to the public.
If council chooses to wait in making a decision to prep to open it extends the period to open by two weeks.
“Further, it extends the hiring process as lifeguards are a requirement of the pool. There is also likely to be health restrictions surrounding pools, but we do not have this information yet. Staffing presents a further issue as some staff may require certification or have found employment. This may further extend the period of time to open depending on recruitment efforts. We are also approved for three summer students (for the pool) through a local non-for-profit, that we would have to request moved to public works if the federal government would allow it.”
Recreation manager Natasha Bozek was present at the meeting and noted she had heard from prospective lifeguards who were wondering if the town was going to hire them this summer.
Robblee added that the Castor swimming pool, like most municipal pools, loses money every year, and councillors should know that keeping it closed for all of 2020 could save the town up to $58,000.
In fact, Robblee noted that, on a purely financial basis, this was his recommendation.
Councillors discussed preparing the pool for opening sometime this summer versus giving up on 2020.
Some councillors stated they hated to see the pool closed because it suggested swimmers would leave Castor to perhaps swim in a different community.
It was also mentioned that most people are sick of being cooped up inside and would love to do anything, including going to the swimming pool.
At that time councillors suggested they wait to hear what the province had planned for pools, and at least one councillor stated they wouldn’t be surprised if pools were left closed all summer and had tabled the issue until later in the week to allow the provincial government some time to make a decision on public swimming pools.
Stu Salkeld, Local Journalism Initiative reporter