Westmount: The question of
a second swimming pool
Does Westmount really need another municipal swimming pool?
By Patricia Dumais
Report on the WMA pool meeting
On Monday, April 16, a meeting organized by the Westmount Municipal Association (WMA) took place at the Westmount Public Library, focusing on the subject of a new indoor municipal swimming pool. Indeed, following a city survey in 2017 that confirmed 81% support out of a sampling of about 1100 respondents (out of a total of 10,000 mailings), some of the current city councillors, as well as the Mayor, ran on the promise of the construction of a new pool.
The WMA meeting did not examine whether a pool should be built, but rather what kind of pool should be built, where it should be located and how it should be operated.
WMA President Paul Marriott led the informal discussion, encouraging those present to voice their ideas. He announced that the WMA would present a memoir to the city based on comments expressed during the meeting.
Some pool facts
Presently Westmounters have access to two swimming pools in the city – the recently built Recreation Centre outdoor pool, which is only available in summer, and the YMCA pool, which is available year-round but requires a paid membership. The YMCA pool also offers a few hours of free swimming per week, on Sunday afternoons, the result of an agreement between the city and the YMCA.
Users’ wish list
Many of the fifty of so people present were regular users of the existing pools. A number of them, mainly members of the Dolphin and Masters swim teams, spoke of their frustration in not having access to a year-round municipal pool.
According to them, the limited availability of the YMCA pool and its inadequate ventilation, preventing excess chlorine gas from being properly evacuated, discourages some swimmers from using it. Additionally, it was mentioned that the Dolphin swim team is only active during the summer season and some medal-winning competitive swimmers are forced to train beyond Westmount.
Some attendants voiced a wish list of possible new pool characteristics. Among these, ten swimming lanes, 50-meter lanes instead of the usual 25 meters, a deeper 3-metre minimum diving area with three diving boards of varying heights, Jacuzzi and saunas, an area for socializing, a deeper area for water polo, a shallow swimming area for kids and the elderly, and accessibility for all. It was even suggested that up to three separate pools could be built within the new complex to accommodate different needs.
Where to build it
Some ideas came up as for where to build the new pool. Of course there were the obvious places like rebuilding a new pool where the current one at the Rec Centre is, or building it on the South-East Tupper lots owned by the city, or possibly renovating the Royal Montreal Regiment Armoury on Ste-Catherine Street.
One novel idea put forth was to use the remaining Westmount-owned Glen Yards land south of the old Victoria Train Station. The new pool centre could then be accessed by foot from the train station, which would be incorporated into the project, through elevators and stairs leading to a tunnel under the train tracks. There would be ample room for parking on the site, accessible by the service road connected to The Glen.
It was also mentioned during the meeting that there might soon be another pool in Westmount due to the sale of the Hillside Armoury to a developer who plans to build a fitness centre that would include an indoor pool.
A retractable pool enclosure?
There was concern whether a second pool would generate enough traffic. Suggestions came up to work with other parties interested in investing in a pool, such as the YMCA or Selwyn House.
One interesting idea was to convert the existing pool into four-season use by way of a retractable pool enclosure. This could possibly be done for under $1M and would allow the city to monitor pool traffic during the entire year, confirming the need for a second pool. As an added bonus, the pool enclosure could supply a badly needed shaded area during the hot summer months.
If the number of users warrants a second pool, there would be ample time for carefully planning its construction. If not, the city could eventually look into improving the existing Rec Centre pool.
Until the city holds public consultations, WMA President Paul Marriott encouraged those present to contact their councillors with their ideas and concerns.
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Taking into account that Westmount is a small city with a population of 20,310, do we really need two municipal pools?
The city of Montreal with 1,942,044 inhabitants manages 48 indoor pools (40,459 residents/pool) and 74 outdoor pools (26,243 residents/pool). Combined in summer, Montreal pools serve 15,918 residents/pool.¹
Westmount, with two pools in summer (the WRC and the YMCA) serves 10,155 residents/pool. Adding a new pool would bring this number down to 6770 residents/pool. Moreover, many Westmounters have access to private pools in homes or apartment buildings, or belong to clubs that offer access to pools.
Does it make sense to build a pool designed for competitive sport?
Westmount is a city of older people with a median age of over 46 years. With half of Westmount’s population over that age and with Baby Boomers increasingly reaching retirement age, our population will only get older. While swimming is an ideal sport for the elderly, they generally engage in leisurely swimming, not competitive or high-energy aquatic activities.
And, unfortunately, Westmount is not an affordable place for young families. Average married-couple family size in Westmount is 3.0 with only 15% of the population aged 14 years and younger.
It is tempting to want to have facilities like those of Pointe-Claire (population 31,380) or Côte St-Luc (population 32,448) but demographics must be considered. The city must aim to satisfy the majority not a minor segment of the population.
Does it make fiscal sense?
One can question the wisdom of adding the cost of building and maintaining another recreation complex to our ever-increasing municipal budget. There is already much to be done in Westmount as far as maintaining our current infrastructure. As 55% of our taxes go into a Montreal budget that we have little control over, we should be cautious with our spending. And add to that the looming prospect of rising interest rates.
A logical compromise
The idea of covering the existing pool with a retractable enclosure would be a good compromise. This could be quickly done without forfeiting the summer swimming season and the cost would be a fraction of that of building a new swimming pool. Here is an example of what it could look like.
Statistics, unless indicated, are drawn from the Canada 2016 Census.
¹ Ville de Montréal
Feature image: City of Westmount
Read also: Sustainability: Golden opportunities
Patricia Dumais is a 27-year resident of Westmount who has served as a board member on many community committees, including the WMA, the APCW, the Healthy City Project and Centre Greene.