All for the pool.
Hairstylist Tia Russell of Signature Styles and customer Lyndsey Lowe both say a new pool would provide enormous health benefits to Renfrew-area residents.
Steve Newman, Renfrew Mercury
An abundance of Renfrew residents want to see an indoor swimming pool and second ice pad in town. But it remains to be seen if town council will continue to support construction of the $18-million facility.
A recreation committee recommendation is expected to come before Renfrew council Jan. 14, at which time council will likely decide whether to continue that support, or conclude that the municipality can’t afford its portion of the facility’s capital and/or operating costs.
Meanwhile, several local residents have weighed in on why they do or don’t want to see the facility.
Since the Dec. 11 public meeting on operating and capital costs, clerk Kim Bulmer had received more than 25 pieces of correspondence, mostly by email.
Several residents have also told The Renfrew Mercury why the facility should be pursued, even if estimated annual operating costs of more than $400,000 could mean taxpayers pay an extra $100 to $200 per year to help make the facility happen.
Frank Belanger, 63, who underwent knee-replacement surgery in 2004 and 2008, says a local pool would be a god-end for his body, over and above the fact he just loves swimming.
“I support it because I’m a senior citizen. I’d use it every day, but also because of my involvement with the Special Olympics. Some Special Olympians go to Arnprior, but more would participate if there was a pool in Renfrew.”
“This is still a land of plenty. I don’t know how much the mill rate (for taxes) would go up, but I really think it’s one of those things (that deserves support),” adds Belanger.
“I don’t know if it would pay for itself in dollars and cents, but it would pay for itself in the health and fitness of the residents.”
Furthermore, he says many out-of-town residents would also use the facility. “I don’t know if it’s a pipe dream, but I’m certainly in favour of it … for the general enjoyment of all,” says Belanger, knowing locals can no longer safely swim in the Bonnechere River.
Ma-Te-Way aquatic committee chairman Leo Hall, who grew up in Renfrew and swam in the river, says it’s a step backward not having the river available for swimming.
But it was his overall perception of local residents being less physically active that encouraged Hall to become one of the more vocal supporters of building a Renfrew swimming pool.
There are definitely financial challenges to overcome, if a second ice pad and pool are to be built in Renfrew, says the 50-year-old parent.
“There has to be an element of respect,” says Hall. “It has to fit into what we can afford. “All I’m proposing is that this is a good project for the town and that we need to find a way to make it.”
And how does that happen?
By working collaboratively, says Hall. “People have to set priorities, and they have to set them alongside other priorities in town.”
Karen Maxwell sees the proposed facility is a big cog in Renfrew’s future economic development. She and husband Steve own Renfrew Home Hardware Building Centre, which is a major financial supporter of physician recruitment to the Renfrew area, say the advantages of a new pool and a second ice pad would be significant.
“With enhanced recreational facilities (like this), people will be clamouring to come to the community,” says Karen.
She says several communities in eastern Ontario, such as Carleton Place, Brockville and Kemptville have been “discovered,” partially because each has put an emphasis on recreational facilities.
Maxwell says Renfrew has yet to be discovered, but that it would be by hundreds of families if recreational facilities were to include the second ice pad and pool.
Delays in Highway 17 expansion are part of the reason for the delayed discovery of Renfrew, but the proposed $18 million pool-ice pad, says Maxwell, would result in benefits to the retail sector (especially downtown), manufacturing and housing starts.
Local developer and volunteer hockey coach Derek McGrimmon believes the second ice pad would be a major magnet to keep people in the community, and to attract new residents.
McGrimmon says another community, which already has two ice surfaces, is Smiths Falls. The town just south of Ottawa continues to draw visitors to town for sports and related shopping and accommodation, but not just for hockey. For example, Smiths Falls will host the Ontario men’s curling championships in 2014.
“Let’s work together and get people into the community,” says McGrimmon. He says the four-laning of Highway 17 to Renfrew (which isn’t expected to happen for several years) will increase the attractiveness of Renfrew, but he says a second ice pad will also do that.
Maxwell says the multi-purpose recreational facility will attract families, including the families of doctors who are considering moving to the Renfrew area.
“There isn’t going to be any sustainable growth without this facility,” insists Maxwell. “Without this facility, you see a modest increase in growth, but let’s stop young people from leaving. We already have a wonderful hospital, and that’s a reason we’ve been able to attract seniors, but for young families I can’t think of a better way to attract them (than a facility like this).”
Maxwell says it would be dangerous for town council take the project “off the table. I think it would be a mistake to close the door,” knowing that governments don’t appear to be able to fund such capital projects right now, but that they could down the road.
Now “over 65,” lifelong Renfrew resident Connie Ryan knows the facility won’t happen without federal and provincial government support. But she says the community has found ways to support major initiatives such as Renfrew Victoria Hospital, Hospice Renfrew and the Bonnechere Manor auditorium. Now she says it’s time to look at a preventative component of healthcare, namely a multi-use recreational facility that caters to young and old.
If taxes were to rise so that many taxpayers had to pay $200 more a year, Ryan says she’d do it in a heartbeat.
“I think we can all say we can find a way to save $200 a year,” she says.
Retired and living on a fixed income, she already spends about $40 a month on thrice-weekly fitness classes. The new facility, she adds, would give her and others new or expanded healthy lifestyle choices.
She was also among the financial supporters of the proposed facility more than 30 years ago, when money raised by several local residents were diverted into support for the new Ma-Te-Way Activity Centre that is a mainstay of Renfrew’s Ma-Te-Way Park recreational facilities.
Randy Penney, speaking as an individual who plays hockey twice a week and swims three times a week, says it’s a great thing any time a community can access facilities that improve their health.
Speaking as Renfrew Victoria Hospital’s chief executive officer, he adds, “I think we’re being shortsighted if we just focus on the immediate financial challenges without looking at the true cost to our community and to society in general (if we don’t have this facility).”
Given that Renfrew County has the highest, or nearly the highest, rates of diabetes, smoking and obesity in Ontario, Penney says the proposed facility is one important way to address that unhealthy situation.
From visits to other communities in the National Capital area and abroad, he says facilities in places such as Barrhaven and Bobcaygeon have become cultural centres of physical activity. Their residents are embracing a healthy lifestyle, and more of that is needed in Renfrew, says Penney.
On this particular project, Penney says the town needs to be aggressive. “If we’re aggressive, and we go after the governments, we can reduce Renfrew’s actual burden on the healthcare system.”
Another swimmer is Tia Russell, a Renfrew triathlete, businessman and mother of two children.
Russell, 30, travels to Arnprior’s Nick Smith Centre to do her pool training, while her two daughters go there for summer swim lessons. Her daughters also spend time on the road travelling to Cobden for most of their ringette games because there isn’t enough good ice time remaining on Renfrew’s one indoor surface.
For many families, the new facility would provide meaningful and healthy activities for parents and children.
Taxes would go up, but for good reason, says Russell, who’s among those who have sent letters to Renfrew council in support of the proposed facility.
“We’d be paying for health, and you don’t mind paying for something like that,” says Russell.
The second ice pad and new pool wouldn’t just attract Renfrew residents either, she adds, noting users would come from Eganville, Douglas, Braeside and other Ottawa Valley communities.