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Swimming star Penny Oleksiak is stepping up to defend Toronto’s public pools, several of which are facing possible closure in the city’s 2017 budget process.
As part of the budget process, city staff identified 12 outdoor pools and 36 wading pools that could close, as well as 10 Toronto District School Board pools whose services could be discontinued. Those cuts would yield around $ 2 million in savings for the city, which is grappling with a $ 91-million budget shortfall.
On Tuesday, the 16-year-old Olympian, who developed as a swimmer in Toronto, sent out a tweet in support of swimming lessons for kids, adding that swimming “saves lives and is good physical activity.”
It’s important to teach kids how to swim.. It saves lives and is a good physical activity #TOpoli #saveSHpool #ToBudget Good luck to Duke??
Oleksiak, a student at Monarch Park Collegiate in the east end, won four medals at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Oleksiak also name-checked the TDSB pool used by Duke of Connaught Public School, hashtagging her tweet #saveSHpool. That pool, located at the S.H Armstrong Community Centre, is one of three mentioned in the preliminary budget that would have their programming re-located.
She didn’t have to wait long for a response. On Wednesday morning, Toronto Mayor John Tory responded.
Gold medal message received, @OleksiakPenny. I’ve asked Budget Chief Gary Crawford to find a way to save these pools. https://t.co/A9N9HK2inH
Tory told reporters earlier in the week that the pool closures weren’t set in stone.
“What is put forward is the notion that you could save some money if you chose to modify the program offerings at some of these pools, either the number of pools or the types of programs. But again, none of these things have been decided on.”
“People have to remember that the alternative to making some of these difficult choices is a significant increase in taxes,” said Tory.
As part of the budget process, each city department was asked to hit a 2.6 per cent budget reduction target.
Public meetings on the budget began on January 5, and city council is scheduled to debate it on February 15.