I was surprised this week when Moncton City Council voted to replace the outdoor pool at the Moncton East Youth Centre. A refurbished outdoor pool, as promised in 2013, is the solution most of us would want in our hearts – but it doesn’t make it the logical choice.
A recommendation was put to council that the pool be decommissioned because “current budgets do no support the objectives of the project … aquatic needs can be met in the community with the presence of three indoor swimming pools and Centennial Beach” and that the location is in a flood-prone area “below the minimum habitable space elevation of 10.5m as identified in by-law Z-213.”
I can understand council bending on these first two points. There was already $1 million promised to this project; the city could find the rest needed to make this happen. And yes, there are lots of swimming options in Moncton and the surrounding communities, but families in the east end relied on that pool for more than just a way to escape the heat of the summer. Taking that away is a much different decision than declining to build it based on existing facilities. But I did think the flood risk would swing the vote towards not repairing the existing pool.
I used to live in the section of Sydney, Cape Breton that was devastated by the Thanksgiving Day flood in 2016. There was a vibrant, important youth centre smack in the middle of the flood zone. Years of love and hard-work spent building and maintaining that community spirit was washed away. Work is now beginning again at a new location, but our Mayor’s concerns about a one-in-100-year storm are valid. It’s not just a financial concern, but the duty of the city to consider these risks.
The decision came down to a vote. Four people (Mayor Dawn Arnold, councillors Susan Edgett, Greg Turner, and Blair Lawrence) said nay, while seven councillors voted to rebuild the outdoor pool – with an opening date of summer 2018. But the focus here shouldn’t be on who voted for what, but who watched that vote. The youth of Moncton.
I’ve seen these kids outside City Hall, in the pouring rain, standing tall and stating their case. They have sat through council meetings. They have answered reporters’ questions. They have made their voices heard — and that is the larger victory.
When I was in Grade Four, our class wrote letters to our MLA. We pleaded our case as to why a new school was necessary. The Grade Five and Six classes were housed in a wooden school house dating from at least the ‘50s, so the case was easy to make – and I’m sure the decision to replace the aging structure would have happened without our earnest appeals. But it made us part of the process. When that new school finally opened (I was in Grade 10), I felt a sense of accomplishment. I had played my part in the democratic process. I had spoken up for what I believed in, and change did occur. It was a powerful lesson.
That’s what I’m focusing on with the east end pool decision. I don’t think it was the prudent financial decision by council, but I also think that should have been a discussion when the pool was closed. A promise was made and will now be kept. And even if there’s a flood in a few years that makes us all recall this debate, the young citizens of Moncton who engaged in this process will keep that sense of belonging and empowerment long after they stop hanging out at the pool.
She Said appears Saturdays in the Times & Transcript.