Pool users in the town of Fort Frances are hoping to see renovations that will make the Memorial Sports Centre pool more accessible and welcoming. 

Nicole LePine, a wheelchair user since 2016, said that she and a group of pool users are worried that the pool will be forgotten amid conversations regarding renovations for the Memorial Sports Centre. 

Currently, the public pool does not have an accessible entrance unless the lift, a chair with a crank that has been around since LePine’s mother was a lifeguard in the 70s, is working. 

If the Town considered alternate ways to get into the water in future design planning, this would benefit both individuals in stroke recovery and the aging population, she says. 

LePine highlighted that aqua therapy has been very helpful to her stroke recovery. She added that aqua therapy can help lower the risk of falls, help with balance and coordination, improve joint flexibility, and more. 

“I did my aqua therapy in Hamilton and Thunder Bay, I was excited to continue at home,” LePine wrote in a letter to the town on July 5. “It’s a god send I can do stairs so I can get into the pool when the lift is not working. Without the accessibility for after the pool it makes it extremely difficult to go. I know I am not the only person that faced these challenges.” 

In her letter to the town, she recommended several changes to the pool including: a new ramp or modern lift to get into the pool, accessible change rooms with grab bars, anti-slip flooring, shower chairs, water chairs, more accessible-friendly swim times, automatic doors, wide hallways and wider doors. 

LePine said that the sharp corners make maneuvering from the showers to the pool and change rooms “nearly impossible” for a wheelchair-user.  

Currently, if she wanted to visit the pool, LePine said her only option would be to use the staff change room. 

“[It has] no grabbars whatsoever and the shower is in the other change room that is not accessible,” she said. 

LePine and several other pool users met with the centre’s former aquatic directors back in the fall. 

“They agreed 100 per cent that the accessibility needs to be improved,” she said. 

In February earlier this year, Tyler Young, former recreation and culture manager for the town, replied to LePine in an email that he passed on her concerns to Aquatic Director Amy Nelder who would then check in with the facilities team. 

“I wanted to let you know that Amy and I are committed to addressing your concerns, as we want the pool to be an accessible and welcoming place for all residents of our community,” Young wrote. “We’re hopeful that [the facilities team] can provide us with some feedback on how we can address these items.” 

Today, LePine said she is still waiting for updates on when the renovations will begin. 

“We’ve made it clear we want to work with the team and not against them but with constant staff turnover we aren’t really getting anywhere,” she said. 

Cynthia Woodland, one of the residents hoping to see changes at the pool, said that approximately $5.2 million was originally allocated for pool renovations but that the amount has been decreased by half and reallocated. 

“I hope that the design for renovations will be happening soon and open to the public for input by users of the pool,” she wrote in a letter to town staff on July 5. 

The staff at the pool have always been helpful, although Woodland feels that the Sports Centre falls short with a few items due to a lack of designation for programming—swimming and summer programs excluded. 

In her letter, Woodland suggested a few minor changes that could improve the pool’s overall appearance, such as repainting a few walls, adding a welcome sign below the rail at the spectator stand, hanging banners and photos, or adding motivational signs in the dressing room and pool area. 

For safety reasons, Woodland also suggested adding another short step to make it easier to get to the top bench in the ladies’ sauna. 

“A few times while I was trying to get down I worried that I could pitch forward into the oven-furnace,” she said. “This could be considered a ‘Senior Request.’”

She added that it would be helpful to have more signage in the weight room on how to use certain machines.

“Hopefully some attention will be paid to the non-hockey side of the sportsplex soon,” she wrote. 

By Elisa Nguyen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jul 12, 2023 at 14:59

This item reprinted with permission from    The Times    Fort Frances, Ontario
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