A series of changes to the way things are done at the Carbonear Swimming Pool will result in the creation of up to 150 new time slots for those who want to take lessons at the regional facility.
And contrary to what had been proposed, non-residents of Carbonear will not be pushed to the back of the line when it comes time to register.
The sweeping changes were adopted unanimously by the town council during a Dec. 3 public meeting, and followed weeks of tense debate and complaints as town leaders attempted to confront an issue that was threatening to damage the Carbonear's reputation as a regional service provider.
Storm of anger
Earlier this fall, it became known that town officials were considering a policy that would give first preference for lesson registration to Carbonear residents. The concept arose after some Carbonear residents complained they were unable to secure a suitable time slot for their children, since the pool is widely used by those throughout the region.
Some argued that since Carbonear subsidizes the operation of the pool - to the tune of some $186,000 in 2011, according to Coun. David Kennedy - that Carbonear residents should get preference during registration time.
It had been proposed that Day 1 of registration be reserved for Carbonear residents, and non-residents could register on Days 2, 3 and 4.
The proposal ignited a storm of anger from many non-residents, some of whom called the proposal discriminatory. There were also threats to boycott Carbonear businesses.
At one point, Carbonear Mayor Sam Slade called it "one of the hardest issues we've ever had to deal with."
In response, the town assembled a special committee headed by Deputy Mayor Ches Ash to review the issue. Other committee members included councillors Ray Noel and Ed Goff, town administrator Cynthia Davis and recreation director Rob Button.
After several weeks of research and discussion, the committee presented its recommendations on Dec. 3, and they were unanimously adopted by the seven elected members of council.
Here's a summary of some of the changes:
• lessons will be reduced from 55 to 45 minutes;
• private lessons will be reduced from 30 to 20 minutes, and will only be offered once the registration process is completed;
• new part-time instructors will be hired, in addition to the 12 that are now in training for 2013;
• and more adult instructors will be hired to complement the two part-timers now on staff;
Pool employees will also keep a detailed wait list in the event that demand outstrips availability.
The current method of registration will also be maintained. Here's how it works: registration is held over four days, based on a rotating alphabetical system to ensure fair and equal access to the pool, regardless of place of residence. So a child with a last name that starts with "A" may have first crack at registration on Day 1 for the fall session, but would have to register on Day 4 during the winter session.
Normally, between 350 and 400 spaces are available for the various swimming levels, but these changes will significantly increase that number.
The new measures are similar to those used by other pools in the province, and "should make it possible for everyone who wishes to register for swimming to do so, unless there are some very extenuating circumstances," said Ash.
Ash said there may be times when parents may not be able to get the specific time slot they are seeking, but that likelihood is now reduced.
Mayor Slade praised the committee, saying he liked the recommendations.
"The aim and the objective of the Carbonear council is that we accommodate as many (people) as possible. I think that's what we're doing here," he said.
Among those lobbying for a "Carbonear-first" policy was Coun. Kennedy. He voted in favour of the new measures, but questioned what council will do if some Carbonear citizens continue to be shut out of the registration process.
"Until everybody has equal payment, they don't necessarily have equal entitlement," Kennedy stated. "What do we do if there is a number of people who come back and they are from Carbonear?"
If further problems surface, council members committed to "tweaking" the policy.
"I don't know if there's ever a way we can come up with ensuring that everybody will have every opportunity to register on a specific time they may want, on a given day," added Coun. Noel.
The nearly 40-year-old facility underwent a $1 million upgrade in 2011, with funding from all three levels of government. The number of users has increased since then, and a large percentage come from throughout the Trinity-Conception region.