Town hears concerns from pool program members

By Ken Kellar
Staff writer

Council and administration of the town of Fort Frances are committed to bringing programming back to the pool, but at this point it’s not clear that there’s any way to get it done quickly.

A delegate of nearly two dozen Aquafitness members and supporters descended on the Civic Centre for Monday night’s meeting of town council to show support for letters and deputations made to the town in regards to the cancellation of guided aquatics and other programming at the Memorial Sports Centre. Town recreation and culture manager Tyler young spoke to the Times earlier this month to note that the issue stems from the realization that many of the town’s recreational activities were actively violating the terms of their insurance policies.

“We were going through a bit of a review, and our insurance company asked me about certifications, the same way we do for our lifeguards,” Young said at the time.

“I came into place under the assumption that we had them, because it’s industry standard that fitness programs have these certifications. That would include a certification from a recognized body in whatever discipline as well as first aid and CPR. So when this whole thing came to light, and a lot of thought and discussion, a lot of dialogue went into this when it first came to light. We did a lot of brainstorming and what this would look like, and for us one simple truth remains, we, as a corporation, were offering fitness programs that did not meet the standard for safety and risk.”

Members of the various cancelled programs prepared a list of questions for council and administration in response, which were delivered to council in the form of a letter, as well as a deputation made on Monday night by Elaine Sande, who pressed council on what solutions could be found to ensure that not only could programs continue, but that the town could continue to rely on those particular streams of revenue in the future, as well as what could be done to futureproof the situation from happening again down the line.

“As members of the Sportsplex, we do understand that insurance pressures have affected delivery of these classes,” Sande said.

“Through no fault of present administration or staff, requirements for Aquafitness certification to teach these classes have lapsed.”

Citing the aforementioned Times article, Sande noted that Young previously stated none of the current staff at the pool were certified to deliver the classes per their insurance policy, and that the town would not pay for staff to receive said certification, prompting the members to ask what measures would be taken to rectify the situation.

“In a memo left for the front desk staff to deliver to patrons to explain cancellations, it stated that going forward they will be sourcing instructors with certifications,” Sande said.

“At the Community Services executive committee meeting, he said this will occur through advertising. One of the town’s strategic values is proactive planning. In part, it reads ‘we plan for the future to get us the best opportunity to achieve our goals, and sustain levels of service. Has the town been advertising for certified staff since September, when this non-compliance was discovered, and if so, where did these advertisements appear?”

Another question Sande brought up on behalf of the pool members was when the town stopped paying for certifications for pool employees, stating that employees in the past appeared to have been sent out for certification from the Canadian Aquafitness Leaders Alliance (CALA) which was covered by the municipality. Sande also questioned if newly appointed Aquatic Director Amy Nelder could either teach the classes or certify present staff.

“If new skills are required due to programs offered by the employer, training should be covered,” she said.

“Personnel in other town departments including the water treatment plant, day care, public works, fire department, administration, etc., upgrade through courses paid for by the town. Continuing education should be an organization-wide policy.

Concern was also expressed by pool members in regards to how the Sportsplex will continue to employ staff with programs being cut, particularly as that impacts the wage employees could earn and could force them to take fewer hours at the pool, or another job altogether.

While Sande expressed her understanding that the town must operate in a fiscally responsible manner, especially as it continues to react to the loss of tax revenue from the former mill, she and the other pool members argued that being fiscally responsible should also mean providing operational stability, particularly with the potential of lost revenue from pool members who cancel their memberships while programming is down.

“We understand that being fiscally responsible means ensuring that we operate with a long term vision to ensure the next generation has the same opportunities that we do today,” Sande said. 

Nearly two dozen pool members and supporters attended Monday night’s meeting of Fort Frances town council in order to hear what the town intends to do to reinstate cancelled aquafitness and other programming at the pool following the discovery that many programs had been in violation of the town’s insurance policies. – Ken Kellar photo

“Not only have current services not been sustained, but there has been a loss of revenue due to memberships being refunded or not renewed due to cancellation of activated classes. This is the only community pool in the Rainy River District. It was built 48 years ago using monies fundraised by the community for the community.

“Although some fitness trends are transient, aquafitness has been a well attended program in Fort Frances for 40-plus years,” she continued. 

“Timely reactivation of this program is in the best interest of the town for this generation, and the next. If this program disappears, which ones are next? Our health care system is in crisis. We must invest in the health and wellness of our population to alleviate health care issues that arise from sedentary lifestyles and provide programs that promote fitness in our community. The health of the community needs to be measured in more than dollars and cents.”

Following Sande’s deputation, councillor Behan and mayor Hallikas both expressed their desires to ensure the programming interruption was dealt with as quickly as possible, and asked that the letter submitted by the concerned residents be forwarded for answers from administration. Young, a regular fixture at council meetings owing to his position as a town administrator, did offer answers to some of the group’s questions, though he noted there were still answers he and others in administration were in the process of tracking down.

Among the answers provided by Young, he noted that calls for certified employees had gone into last year’s fall recreator and social media, with plans for advertising in other media and publications to be done in the near future. Young also noted that while aquatics director Nelder did have qualifications to teach aquafitness classes, she was not herself certified to certify current staff, and taking on the additional responsibilities of aquafitness would be something she would have to agree to as it could interfere with her listed job responsibilities. Additionally, he noted that even futureproofing the situation by training a current staff member to be an instructor for additional staff is not a quick fix to the issue.

“We also talked about training a trainer as an option; that is something that right now is resonating with us,” Young said.

“In looking at that, the possibility to train someone on staff to become a trainer, help stabilize aquafitness programs now and in the future, because that individual could then certify the staff we have and the staff that are incoming. The challenge with that is we have to do some more research with it, it takes some time, it’s approximately $1,200 for that particular course and takes about four to six months to complete. So even if we were to go in that direction, there is a cost associated with it, and aquafit is not starting for at least four to six months afterwards.”

Young noted the pool was not cutting staff hours, instead working to maximize the staff they currently have. He also said he was open to looking into the timing of the currently available YouFit program to see if there was a more appropriate time in the pool schedule for it, which was one final point the pool members made.