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Staff Policy: wading pool suspense, policy changes

29-May-2010 [56]


Local parks are places where people can become familiar with their neighbours, maybe even find friends. Parks - the “public commons” - can become community centres without walls, especially if they’re well-located where paths cross between various neighbourhood destinations.

Dufferin Grove Park has been a handy shortcut to the mall ever since 1957. Before that it was a shortcut to the racetrack that used to be where the mall is (see the new history display posted on the wading pool shed). In 1954, the racetrack’s owner, Fred Orpen, donated $10,000 to build a wading pool in the park. In summer that little pool becomes one of the social centres of the park and the whole neighbourhood.

The wading pool is one part of a triad of attractions for children and their caregivers. The playground and the adventure playground-sandpit are the two other parts. The playground cafe supports all three, with the help of the community-built cob courtyard. Many parents say that they stay all day and still struggle with their kids to get them to leave at the end – the kids are having too good of a time.

What makes the whole lovely scene work is the part-time recreation staff who oversee the wading pool, the sandpit, and the food served at the cafe. The staff have to be good at keeping a lot of balls in the air. So former Recreation supervisor Tino DeCastro made sure that some of the playground/wading pool staff are mothers who know the scene and know the users.

At the beginning of May there was a sudden summons for wading pool staff to report to a Parkdale Community Centre and get their paperwork ticked off. It was such short notice that only Marina, Leslie, and Heidrun could go. When they got there, they were told that this summer they could do only one thing, i.e. wading pools, full time or not at all, no integration with other park activities. (Management of wading pools was centralized three years ago, along with so much else, and aquatics is that section’s exclusive focus.) The Dufferin Grove staff were also told that they may be assigned to other wading pools instead, at the discretion of the central aquatics co-ordinators. Marina was told that she had the wrong kind of wading pool certification, since she went to an EMS (i.e. the city’s ambulance service) course, which is not recognized by the Lifesaving Society. So she might not be allowed to work at wading pools this summer at all. The park staff described the scene as distressing, confusing, and insulting. What to do?

Costanza Allevato, one of the city’s recreation managers, who has been assigned the task of developing a “community engagement framework,” was away, so we couldn’t ask her. Gary Sanger, the aquatics supervisor in charge of West Toronto, was away too. Dave Hains, the new recreation supervisor for this area, said he’d have to check into what happened, since aquatics is a separate operation, not under him. Dave’s boss Kelvin Seow called around to various other staff to find out more. By the end of the day Heidrun, Leslie and Marina were told they wouldn’t be moved to other wading pools after all. Everything else about the Dufferin Grove wading pool is still up in the air. More information will be posted as it comes in.