The City wants to cut leisure center service, and charge you to part at the LRT stations, seriously.

So the city, faced with a 35 million dollar shortfall needs to try to come closer to breaking even.  The City Administration came up with a plan.  One that horrifies me.  The highlights are:

  • Retire the trolley bus fleet immediately, instead of April 2010
  • Charging people to park at LRT stations
  • charging more for parking at city facilities
  • cutting the hours of operation at the majority of the City leisure centers by 5%
  • Closing an indoor swimming pool

I simply cannot get past the majority of these points.  I am indifferent to the trolley bus situation, and charging more to park at City facilities, while not wonderful, it not surprising.  The other 3, I simply cannot wrap my head around, 8 hours after reading it.

Charging people to park at LRT stations might is an absolutely awful idea.  The City is investing nearly a Billion dollars in the south LRT extension.  I understand that they want people to take a bus to the LRT station, then the LRT, but that simply does not happen right now.  Drive by Clareview, Belvedere, or Stadium stations on a week day and the parking lots are full.  Investing a Billion dollars in a transit system, and then driving people away from using said system to me negates the point of it.  Sure, some people will pay, some people will take the bus, but some people will avoid the system altogether.  That will add more cars to the main arteries in the city.

Reducing hours at pools will affect a lot of people.  let’s assume that 5% equates an hour per day.  That is 1 hour less for staff to work, that is 1 hour less for patrons to use the pool.  It is likely that the pools will open later, which means that people who enjoy a swim or a workout before going to work or school might not be able to do that if they lose an hour of their time. It is a bad customer service move that will only serve to anger the public, and cause more headache than what it is worth in savings.

I have saved the “best” for last.  The City administration is recommending closing one swimming pool entirely.  Which pool they want to close will be announced Wednesday morning, and I will be sure to post here when it is announced.  I don’t even know where to begin.  There are several older facilities in the city, some that do need some heavy maintenance work.  There is no disputing that.  However, taking away a swimming pool would hurt so many communities.  They serve as a gathering place for people of all ages.  During the day senior citizens make the pool their place to go to exercise and socialize.  In the afternoon and early evening children go to learn how to swim, and in the evening kids and teenagers gather to have a fun time in a relatively safe environment.  The use of a swimming pool should not be overlooked.  Whenever a pool closes for longer maintenance, such as the year long shut down of Grand Trunk Leisure Center, the affects are felt across the entire area of the city.  People are forced to go do different facilities, people who usually make visiting the facility 3, 4, 5 times a week a part of their life.  Communities that are built at a pool are ripped apart for long periods of time.  Staff members are displaced.  You could have up to 50 staff members that are laid off, or transferred to other facilities, which then affects the staff there.  Closing a leisure center is not a matter of dollars and cents.  You are talking about the lives you are affecting, which are too numerous to count.

On a personal note, it feels to me like leisure centers are bearing a large brunt of the economic challenges the city is facing.  Part time staffing at most leisure centers has been cut to the minimums, and risk going even lower.  The time is coming where the city risks losing good, skilled, talented people simply because the hours have been cut back too much.  It feels that we have to fight for every inch, every minute of our shifts now.  As much as we try to maintain it, less staff translates very simply into a lower quality of service.  And in the business of being responsible for people’s lives, a lower quality of service is unacceptable.  We are asked to do more with less.  And I don’t know how much longer, as a group, it can go on before something gives.

I hope City Council dismisses the recommendations of the city administration on this one.  This is yet another case of the administration going too far, and making the wrong call.

[Read] – Edmonton Journal article

EDIT(April 15): the city administration announced that the pool they wish to close is the Scona pool. The mayor is vocal in his opposition to this plan. He slammed the city administraion for not "cutting the beraucratic fat" and instead cutting part of the front line. My hope is that city council votes against this plan, and forces the city administration to come up with a plan that works.

The Unisex Change Room Debate – the view of a Lifeguard

A couple of days ago, the public was made aware that the City of Edmonton was planning on having a unisex, or communal, change room at the new Queen Elizabeth outdoor pool.  This was something I had heard about almost a year ago.  The city believes that this is the way of the future, and is planning on building all future facilities in this manner.  The theory is that more and more people use a family change room, and that a single, larger change room is more cost effective than 2 or 3 separate change rooms.

While my full time job is working in IT, I still work as a lifeguard at a City of Edmonton pool.  It was the job that got me through college, and got me to the position I am in now.  I still do enjoy the job, and the environment of working in a pool, so I still do it once a week.  Because of my background in actually lifeguarding a pool, I feel that I can share a first hand perspective and opinion on this matter.

To put is simply, I think this is a bad idea.  In fact, I think this might be one of the most short sighted ideas the City Administration has had in recent years, and that is saying something. Usually the people who plan these types of facilities have never worked in one, and often plan what is best on paper, not what is the best option for both the patrons that use the facility, and the staff tasked with working there.  While I can see their idea in theory, as someone who works in a pool in practice, this is a recipe for disaster.

The pool that I work at has three change rooms.  It has a full change room for males and females, as well as a large family change room.  The family change room has four changing stalls, two showers, and three private bathrooms. as well as lockers.  In terms of pure size I would say it is about 1/2 the size of the changing area of our actual men’s and women’s change rooms.  Our family change room use is restricted for families, which we define as parents with children.  So a father can take his two kids into the family change room, or a mother can take her young son.  If there is say, a father and an 8 year old son, we prefer they use the men’s change room, but it is not a requirement.  The family change room may also be used by people with limited mobility, or people with disabilities.  We ask that everyone else use either the men’s or women’s change room.  It’s a fairly simple solution that I personally believe has worked very well over the years.

There are many reasons why I do not believe that unisex change rooms can work.  The first is simple math.  for an evening public swim during the summer at the pool I work at, we can get as many as 350 people who are trying to get into the pool at the same time.  These range from families with young children, to groups of teenagers.  This is a scenario that happens nearly every night for two full months during July and August.  Trying to push 350 people through a single change room with roughly twenty stalls would lead to chaos.  You will have shy teenagers who want to change by themselves, so a stall meant for five people might only have one in it.  While this is happening you will have families who are stuck waiting for a changing stall to open.  It can be a challenge getting 350 people through the cashiers and change room at a pool that does not have this configuration, I cannot imagine the difficulty of this scenario.

The second reason is one that I believe will become an issue in about 10 minutes after the pool opens.  Groups of teenagers will cause continual frustration.  All it will take is one 14 year old boy exposing himself to everyone in the change room to completely ruin the experience for everyone.  And believe me, it will happen.  What happens when a 14 year old exposes himself, as a joke, to a girl around his age, or someone younger?  This has disaster written all over it, and leads into my fourth point later on.

A third reason, and one that I look forward to the least, are groups of people changing together who should not be changing together, and the consequences of that.  I think many of us would agree that two 15 year old children who are dating, should not be changing together in a stall in a unisex change room.  There is also the issue of people of any age engaging in sexual activities in those stalls.  I know this will happen because it is something that we have to deal with on a semi-regular basis at the pool that I work at.  A young teenage couple will change in the family change room so they can engage in certain activities.  Or, on more rare occasions, adult couples will do the same.  I have caught more than my fair share of teenagers doing things they should not be doing in the family change room over the years.  This is a problem that would likely multiply ten fold in a unisex change room only configuration.

The second and third points both lead into my fourth, which is the effect on pool staffing.  Because of the issues that the second and third points will cause, lifeguards will likely be required to patrol the change room more often.  With recent city budgetary difficulties, we have seen staffing at my pool reduced, which makes it harder to do those checks.  When there is an incident in a city facility, the staff members involved in dealing with that incident are required to do some paperwork via filling out incident reports.  This means that the staff member is either unavailable to resume normal duties until that report is complete, or the report has to be done after their regular shift is over, which is paid time.  To have locker room checks at the frequency that would be required in a unisex change room format would likely require an additional staff member working than what we would normally see, which will mean the pool needs a larger budget, which is another burden on the city budget, and at the end, the tax payer.  Incidents will be more frequent, and you will likely run into very undesirable scenarios as a staff member.  As a male lifeguard I have run into multiple awkward situations with teenage girls in the family change room, the same can be said for my female co-workers.  This will add to the stress of an already stressful job as a lifeguard, and could turn people away from the job altogether.

I think that the concept of a family change room is a fantastic idea.  When utilized properly, the family change room at my facility is an excellent option for people to use.  I believe that every facility should have a family changing area, but not at the expense of a men’s and women’s change rooms.  They are a useful option, but not the only option.

I absolutely see the ideas behind having a single, unisex change room at a swimming pool facility.  However, in the opinion of this lifeguard, someone who works on the ground in a pool on a regular basis, the potential for problems simply outweigh any possible benefits.

[Read] – iNews880 article (identical article can also be found at 630ched.com)

[Read] – Global Edmonton Article

[Read] – Edmonton Journal Article