Nearly 75 Etobicoke Olympium patrons came out to a meeting Wednesday night to hear plans for the year-long, $20-million renovation project at the facility in advance of the Toronto 2015 Pan/Parapan Am Games.
The Olympium, a multi-sport facility that features an Olympic-sized pool, leisure pool, gymnasium and fitness centre, will be used during the Games as a training site for swimming, water polo, diving and synchronized swimming.
To prepare for the Games, the Olympium will be closed to the public from July 1, 2013 to July 1, 2014 for extensive renovations, including: improvements to the existing pool, upgrading the dive tower to meet Federation Internationale de Natation (FINA) requirements, major overhaul of the facility’s mechanical and electrical systems, and renovations to the building’s lobby and administrative areas.
“We have here what has been a high-class, top-rated, world-class facility for many years, but now the building needs some help,” said Etobicoke Centre Councillor and Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday. “Fortunately, that’s transpiring and we’re going to get some financial aid and we’re going to build what’s needed to make this building last for another 40 years.”
The federal government will take on the lion’s share of the project, providing 56 per cent of the funding for the $20 million undertaking, with the city picking up the tab for the remaining 44 per cent. Catherine Meade, director of 2015 Pan/Parapan Am Games for the City of Toronto, said the much-needed upgrades to the Olympium would not have otherwise been possible.
“For a project like this one, this is work that absolutely needed to be done, but we couldn’t really afford it,” she said. “That’s what’s great about partnering with the federal government for the Pan Am Games – it’s allowing us to do work that needed to be done and actually be able to afford it.”
At the pool level, the Olympium’s leak-plagued Olympic-sized pool will essentially be replaced, with a brand new pool liner that will be fitted over the existing pool, the dive tower will be widened to allow for synchronized diving, and new showers will be added at the tower. New bleachers, a new sound system and LED lighting is also set to be installed.
And, perhaps most “critical”, said Meade, will be the new ventilation and dehumidification systems for the pools.
“That’s really going to change the air quality in the facility,” she said. “We all know the air is not so great, that’s why we’re going to be making these upgrades – there will be air conditioning throughout building, new air handlers, pumps and controls. Some of these things don’t sound very exciting, but they are pretty important.”
For patrons like Ron Armstrong, who swims with the Etobicoke Olympium Masters Aquatic Club, the new dehumidification system will be a breath of fresh air.
“It’s just a fabulous facility, but it’s tired...The ventilation definitely needs upgrading. There’s a lot of people in our Masters Club who have difficulty breathing,” he said, noting that the leisure pool area is especially stifling. “We’ve even had to open doors in the middle of winter to allow air to flow through, and even then the fumes coming off the pool are such that you can’t catch your breath, you can’t breathe sometimes.”
To help the Olympium’s “treasured” users find temporary new homes during the facility’s year-long renovations, Olympium staff have been seeking out alternative facilities in Etobicoke and across the city, said Janie Romoff, director of Community Recreation for the city’s Parks, Forestry and Recreation department.
During the construction period, Romoff said the entire building will be closed to the public, impacting not only the swim clubs, leisure swimmers and aquafit students who make use of the pools, but also the health club members and permit users who take advantage of the other facilities in the Olympium.
While Olympium staff have successfully relocated 1,500 of its 2,000 annual swimming lessons to other area pools, and have negotiated with Alderwood, Norseman, Memorial and Gus Ryder pools to add more leisure swims to their schedules to accommodate for the greater demand during the Olympium’s closure, they’re still working closely with many of the competitive swim clubs and diving clubs that train out of the Olympium to find them alternate facilities.
“This has been a big struggle for us around finding the appropriate place to try and accommodate those needs, especially because this pool has so many specialized functions,” Romoff said, noting that potential pools have been identified with the school board, at University of Toronto, in Mississauga, and at McMaster University. “We’ve had some success, and will continue working on that in the months to come.” Romoff said she knows the frustration that people have over the year-long closure, but asks that they keep the “endgame” in mind.
“I think the one thing to keep in mind is that the investment in this facility will last for many years to come and exceeds the capacity that we would have had to upgrade the facility,” she said. “I know it’s an inconvenience, but if people can try to think of it in the long-range impact on the facility...After the Games, the facility will be in a much better position to host all kinds of athletic competitions and training because of the improvements that we’ll have made.”