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Accessible, graded entry will be major feature of renovated pool

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The Kinsmen indoor pool at the Tillsonburg Community Centre turns 50 next year.

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After a half century serving the community, it will be undergoing major renovations over the next couple of years.

“Staff and Council are going to do their absolute best to keep it open and available as long as possible before construction eventually has to take over,” said Chris Baird, Tillsonburg’s Director of Recreation, Culture and Parks. “It’s still early on but that will be our goal.”

Over the next few months he said the Town will be going over designs, specs, and documents. Contracts will be awarded, and work could begin some time during the winter.

Right now, the pool is open and programs are running, and it will be open in the fall.

The list of work that will be done is lengthy. It includes new pool tiles, deck and line, restoration of the roof, and new high-efficiency lighting.

New gender-neutral change facilities will located near the shallow end of the 25-metre pool, said Dave Drobitch, Manager of Parks and Facilities.

“It’s that extra level of safety,” said Drobitch. “If kids run out of the change-room and jump into the water, they’re not going into the deep end.”

There will also be an accessible walk-in entry at the shallow end, although the integrity of the six lanes will be maintained.

“It might start midway, then go down to the shallow end,” said Baird.

The exterior of the roof will be replaced. Plans could include an opportunity for more natural light.

“We’ll see what the architect comes back with,” said Baird.

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At this point, it is unknown whether permanent seating will return (the ‘accordion’ bleachers were removed a few years ago).

“It will depend on the (architect) concepts,” said Andrea Greenway, Recreation Programs and Services Manager.

Drains and drain pumps will be installed to meet current standards.

The pool office/lifeguard room will be expanded, and that’s good news for Julie Dawley, Aquatics Supervisor, who will have pool-level office space for the first time.

Dawley recalls a time when the pool had a ‘high diving board’ (3 metres), which was taken out decades ago.

“We kept the one metre board,” she noted.

Some of the pool equipment is rather new, including the starting blocks and clocks, but some had reached its end-of-life including the bleacher seating which was removed 3-4 years ago to allow more deck space.

“They were aging, no handrails, and they were cumbersome… so we just decided to take them out,” said Dawley. “They did their part for our (pool’s history) but it was time to move on.”

The biggest change to come will be accessibility, she said.

“I’m so excited about it, the fact that we will have a graded-in entry. It’s going to be a wheelchair accessible entry. Right now, with the lift, it is quite the process to get in and out. It’s going to be so much easier. Right now it’s doable – there is accessible stairs and the lift if you need it, but both of those are not as easy as a graded entry.

“So these will be big changes and I’m hoping it will open the door for other people who have challenges to come to the pool… because the water is such a healing, healing exercise. It really makes a big difference. When I’m in the water right now I’m pain-free, I can do whatever I want – walk, run, skip, I can do anything. On land, no, I have a cane.”

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The new change rooms will also be accessible, she noted.

“It’s time,” Dawley nodded. “This pool really needs a makeover. But as I keep saying, yes this pool is old and it really needs to be revamped, but ‘it has served its purpose well in this community.’”

You only have to look to the TAT Wall of Fame where you will see names of many former provincial, national and scholarship-calibre swimmers. The Evan Van Moerkerke Olympian photos are still prominently displayed.

“We’ve done a lot in this little pool, but I would love to see it be more of a place for the aging community because we have lots of seniors and people with physical challenges here,” said Dawley.

At the same time, Dawley, who began a two-year term as president of Lifesaving Society Ontario in 2020, knows the importance of teaching children to swim, and training lifeguards (July 18-24 was National Drowning Prevention Week), and the pool will continue to provide those services going forward.

“It’s clean, it’s supervised, and we have talented staff, we really do. They do great jobs and we love teaching kids to swim. This summer we even developed a new set of lessons just to get kids in the water over at the (Lake Lisgar) Water Park. We did some skill development – kids were coming in and strengthening their swimming skills because some of these kids had not been swimming last year. And this is scary, especially in the summer time… people are assuming their children have the same sort of strength and skills they had a year ago. And they don’t.”

cabbott@postmedia.com

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