Why some Ontario municipalities are throwing in the towel on their outdoor swimming pools

A stock photo of the Clinton Public Pool in southwestern Ontario, which municipality of Central Huron has decided to remove for $200,000, after a report found that the cost to rebuild it would be $5 million.  (Clinton Public Pool/Facebook - image credit)
A stock photo of the Clinton Public Pool in southwestern Ontario, which municipality of Central Huron has decided to remove for $200,000, after a report found that the cost to rebuild it would be $5 million. (Clinton Public Pool/Facebook - image credit)

After nearly 50 years, the municipality of Central Huron in southwestern Ontario opted last week to fill in Clinton's only outdoor swimming pool and return it to green space. The decision has drawn ire from some residents who say the outdoor space is of great value to communities.

"It's a great place for families to go, I took my son there every summer and it's really hard these days for kids to leave their computers behind and go do something outside," said Heather Baker, who has lived in Clinton for almost 12 years. "It's indispensable. I can't imagine living in a town without a public pool, it's absolutely a shame."

The municipality voted on Tuesday to remove Clinton's pool in a process that costs about $200,000, after a report showed that fixing it would amount to $5 million which isn't feasible, said Mayor Jim Ginn.

"With the age of the pool there really isn't a fix to it, it's done...it's beyond tired. We're a small municipality and it just seemed too much to bite off," he said.

"There was a time when governments had money for recreational facilities and it just seems to be harder to access those, so the dollars that might've been available 50 years ago when some of these pools were built, just aren't available now."

A few years ago, a health unit inspection found underground erosion in the pool from a leaky pipe causing its deck to collapse, said Ginn. Community outreach — including an online survey and public meetings — to discuss the pool's future had a low turnout, he added.

A number of cost factors, poor maintenance and infrastructure is part of a trend that an expert says is driving municipalities grappling with tight budgets to shut down their open-air pools.

Jamie Lopes is manager of DEI Consulting's Aquatic Department. The Kitchener-based company provided reports on the status of both London and Woodstock's outdoor swimming pools.
Jamie Lopes is manager of DEI Consulting's Aquatic Department. The Kitchener-based company provided reports on the status of both London and Woodstock's outdoor swimming pools.

Jamie Lopes is manager of DEI Consulting's Aquatic Department. The Kitchener-based company provided reports on the status of both London and Woodstock's outdoor swimming pools. (DEI Consulting Engineers Website)

"Obviously, as things age, more maintenance needs to be involved and more funds and infrastructure need to be applied to those pools. There's pumps, filters, valves, and finishes within the tank that need to be serviced on a regular basis, said Jamie Lopes, manager of DEI Consulting's Aquatic Department.

"Pools that are more than 50-years-old, they've outlived their life expectancies. With inflation, things don't cost the same as they did a few decades ago, so costs associated with establishing a community pool have gone up astronomically."

In March, about 100 kilometres southeast in Woodstock, the city shelved its plans to build a brand new $5 million outdoor pool in place of its Lions Pool which closed last summer.

"Looking at the fiscal responsibilities of the city right now, it was pretty clear that it wasn't the best way to spend the money at today's current interest rates to go into that much debt," said Woodstock Mayor Jerry Acchione.

Last year, London said goodbye to its beloved 50-metre Thames Park Pool but that closure was due to infrastructure problems with groundwater and movement of the pool.

High Material and equipment costs

DEI Consulting, located in Kitchener, created reports for London and Woodstock's pools.

While cost of materials depends on a pool's size, an average pump can range between $8,000 to $15,000, Lopes said. With electrical requirements, installation, valves and piping — the price can snowball very quickly.

Equipment needs to be tested anywhere from daily to once a year depending on what they are. Whether it's feasible to renovate an existing pool or build a new one depends on public demand, he said. 

"Pools are great. As far as infrastructure and cost, yes they're a big ticket item but they're needed for recreation and a healthy body and mind," said Lopes. "[They're] definitely worth the investment for any municipality to look at to see how it benefits the local population."

Woodstock residents can use its indoor Aquatic Centre that has extended swim hours. There are two indoor pools within a driving distance from Clinton in Goderich and Vanastra, and an outdoor pool in Seaforth, said Ginn.

But Clinton resident Baker said it's not accessible for many people to travel between rural towns. A year-round indoor pool within the community could solve that problem, Baker added.

"It's very hard if families don't have cars or access to some sort of ride," she said. "There's no buses available to take us to the Vanastra pool, so for all the families who are low income, to get to another town with a pool is impossible."

A stock image of the Lions Pool in Woodstock, Ont., that the city closed in summer 2023 because of tears in the pool's liner. Plans to build a new outdoor pool were scrapped in March due to budget constraints.
A stock image of the Lions Pool in Woodstock, Ont., that the city closed in summer 2023 because of tears in the pool's liner. Plans to build a new outdoor pool were scrapped in March due to budget constraints.

A stock image of the Lions Pool in Woodstock, Ont., that the city closed in summer 2023 because of tears in the pool's liner. Plans to build a new outdoor pool were scrapped in March due to budget constraints. (City of Woodstock)

Woodstock's pool, built in 1947, shut down due to a torn liner. Although costs to replace it would be more than $220,000, its pipes' condition would continue causing problems, the city said.

Both Acchione and Ginn said outdoor pools are only used for three to four months of the year and the cost of operating them outweighs their short-term use.

"I apologize, we had some tough decisions to make for this most recent budget. But it boils down to spending [money] that the entire city could use on a 12-month basis, versus something that some people could use if the weather permits for a few months," said Acchione.

According to Ginn, an indoor pool has much higher operating costs and Clinton has an insufficient population base to make up for it. Adding a third indoor pool in the area can be problematic for all of them, he said.

Baker believes politicians are being shortsighted and don't recognize the value an outdoor pool has for small town residents, she said.

"Summers are getting hotter and there's a lot of people in small towns who don't own cars, who don't have access to pools in other towns or the beach, so the pool really is the only place they can go to cool off and spend family time or time with friends."