The Winchester public swimming pool will be closed until further notice. Morin photo

NORTH DUNDAS – A summer activity that is as synonymous with summer, as bread is to butter has taken a hit because of pandemic related restrictions.

North Dundas council decided at a special meeting on June 30 to not open their two public swimming pools. The decision was unanimous. The pools in Winchester and in Chesterville are popular spots for families in the municipality to go to during the summer.

Mayor Tony Fraser said, “I am concerned with the product that our recreation department offers. A swimming pool is a place to go to have fun, to splash about, to socialize and get some exercise.”

He said social distancing was a major concern in dealing with the virus.

He asked, “Is this the right thing to do to offer our residents?” He took issue with the idea that the municipality would be offering a recreational activity that only a quarter of the residents would be able to take advantage of.  

“I think that opportunity will be very limited to many people because of the other things that go on in life,” he said.

The consensus of councillors was that the number of regulation and restrictions they would have to impose on swimmers at the pools would take away from their swimming experience.

The Medical Officer of Health of the Eastern Ontario Health Unit (EOHU), made a decision on June 25 that all indoor and outdoor communal steam rooms, saunas, whirlpools, spas and hot tubs must be closed; and that all change rooms, locker rooms and lockers must be cleaned and sanitized between each individual use.

Of course, municipalities were given a choice to make, in that if all of the restrictions associated with the EOHU decision can be met, and there are many, including fines for ignoring restrictions, then outdoor community pools could open for the summer.

The director of Recreation and Culture Meaghan Meerburg prepared a comprehensive report for the council detailing how the restriction could be applied in order for the local pools to remain open.

Meerburg examined each of the required restrictions and detailed ways the municipality would have to operate in order to satisfy them.

She said, “As part of Stage 2 of the Government of Ontario’s framework for reopening businesses and services during the COVID-19 pandemic: on June 12, the Province of Ontario lifted restrictions regarding pool and splash pad facilities which permitted them to open.”

Meerburg added, “Since then, staff have been gathering information, holding meetings, and working with the Eastern Ontario Health Unit, to determine if and how the Township of North Dundas can safely open and operate our two municipal pools, while ensuring the continued health and safety of our residents and staff team.”

The report painted a bleak picture of numerous, but necessary restrictions that would make swimming at the public pools difficult, and to many families a disappointing one.

For example, a family would have to book their swimming time in advance and once at the pool confine their swimming to one of three lanes separated by rope to ensure social distancing requirements. No toys would be allowed in the pool and the swim time would only be for 30 minutes. In order to satisfy cleaning and sanitizing regulations between each time slot, families and individuals would have to wait outside the pool until cleaning was completed.

The regulations would restrict the use of both pools to 16 individuals or families per day.

Councillor Thompson felt the number of restrictions would have a negative impact on pool users and would be difficult to maintain.

“It is going to be hard to monitor and keep the public happy with what we are going to be able to offer compared to a normal season,” he said.

Councillor Annable appreciated the thoroughness of the report but said, “It certainly seems like a logistical nightmare for them (staff) to manage, not that they can’t. It’s a lot to handle.”

He added, “I can’t see going to the pool right now being any kind of relaxing experience. I just do not see a lot of benefit to opening.”

Deputy mayor Armstrong felt the same way. He said, “Keeping it to 16 would be somewhat frustrating to a lot of people. If you had 16 families and you were trying to keep them in a lane that would be somewhat difficult.”

Armstrong added, “Certainly one thing that jumps out to me is, it is difficult for everyone and disappointing for people with small children, and I am sure, right up to the teenagers. As much as for the recreational part of it the ones who may be the hardest hit are the ones who are going to lose their lessons. A lot of these people will become lifeguards, a lot of them use their lessons for future things as well.”