Sarnia council has directed city staff to work with the YMCA of Southwestern Ontario in developing a five-year plan for aquatic programming at Tecumseh Pool at the Cox Youth Centre.
A staff report was unanimously approved during Monday's council meeting.
Staff recommended that open swims and aquatic classes be offered at $2 per person with the city providing the $3 portion of the subsidy, and swim lessons be offered at $45 per person with the city providing the $55 portion of the subsidy of the regular YMCA rate during the summer seasons of 2023-2027.
With the aforementioned rate, the annual pool costs are expected to range between approximately $127,000 with 50 per cent utilization and $104,000 with a 90 per cent utilization.
YMCA Regional Managers Joseph Cebulski and Lindsay Whitaker gave a brief presentation of what was observed during a 2022 pilot project. The one-year pilot was launched after the city received pushback from community members over a fee increase.
As specified in the presentation, aquatic programming faced challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic as lifeguard certifications and recertifications were put on hold, and many lifeguards pursued other employment opportunities.
However, swimming lessons returned to Tecumseh Pool last summer, which was welcomed by many.
Cebulski said over 300 children and youth utilized swim lessons and there were over 100 registrations for the YMCA's Aquafit classes.
"All in all, Tecumseh Pool saw almost 9,000 registrations for regular open swims, there were also several community swims -- sponsored free swims thanks to the generosity of Noelle's Gift, Shell, Sarnia Fire Department, and Bethel Church," Cebulski said.
In answering a question posed by Councillor Adam Kilner, Whitaker said with community support, it's believed the YMCA will be able to expand the number of free community swims this year.
"Even with the success seen in 2022, the utilization rate last summer was around 45 per cent. Having the additional time for proper promotion and registration, we're excited to see those numbers rise dramatically in 2023," said Cebulski.
With a five-year agreement, Cebulski said programming would be offered seven days a week with the season running from July 3 through to August 25.
Councillor Anne Marie Gillis noted the multiple closures that took place last summer due to heat waves and pressed YMCA staff to "do more than look" at the feasibility of adjusting its hours to accommodate more families on weekends.
The hours of operation are Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. until 8 p.m. and from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. on weekends and holidays.
Cebulski said the availability of lifeguards and swim instructors factors into the pool's hours of operation.
"I can definitely say yes, we can be flexible when it comes to that schedule but I'd like to get back to you on that after we can look at that a little further," he said.
Councillor Brian White followed up on Gillis' questions in regards to mitigating the number of pool closures.
Whitaker said they learned from last year's pilot how the pool operates and how it can stay open on hot summer days whilst still following the heat stress policy.
"This year moving forward, if we have more guards, we'll be able to mitigate that so we have no closures due to heat," Whitaker said. "If we have enough guards to accommodate that with rotations, it won't be an issue."
In the council report, city staff also recommended a review of the city's existing agreement for the indoor pool at the YMCA's Jerry McCaw Family Centre to ensure it meets the needs of the community.