“I’ve had people phone and tell me on the street complaining about swimming registration, sitting in line for hours and not being accepted,” said Luke Wijna, acting board chairman of the Taber Recreation Board at their April 3 meeting.
Hearing the concern has been nothing new for Aline Holmen, recreation facility manager for the Town of Taber who noted the bottom line is there is only so much room and so many spots for lessons at the Aquafun Centre.
“The demand for lessons, we have 145 spots and we have 125 filled. The only ones available are at the higher levels that don’t always fill up,” said Holmen. “We also have 125 on waiting lists. The demand is almost double of what we can accommodate. There’s people who can’t get in, there’s no question about that. There would be no way in the world we could accommodate all those people if the pool was empty. I would need 12 instructors to accommodate all of those people.”
In booking swimming lessons, Holmen added administration looks at what they have for instructors, what there is for pool space, availability for time frames and what days work best.
“We basically run lessons every day of the week except for Fridays and Sundays. Fridays because of half days for school and families tend to leave for the weekend and I just don’t think that’s a program that’s appropriate for Sundays, because it’s usually a family-type day.”
People have approached administration according to Holmen, noting if demand is so high, cancel other programs such as open swims or senior swims or aquafit. But then, that would bring up the issue of who recreation is available for.
“People want lessons 24 hours a day. But I don’t think that is what the mandate of our pool is. It is to meet the needs of our community an all ages and all different types of users,” said Holmen.
“Because our waiting list was so large, we actually sacrificed our private lesson waiting list and spots and we added three more classes because there was so much pressure after this registration.”
Holmen confirmed people waited as long as an hour in line to register for public swimming lessons and did not get in. On-line registration was suggested which poses its own set of problems.
“The same thing is going to happen if you’ve ever tried to buy a concert ticket online. If you don’t get it within the first two minutes, you are out of luck,” said Holmen. “To try and be as fair as possible we set up a registration day which didn’t solve the issues either. We’re not sure how we can make 100 per cent of the people happy, I’m not sure that we can.”
Conversing with other pool staff, Holmen noted in the majority of pool time in Lethbridge facilities, they do not have public lessons.
“A lot of the pools don’t even have public lessons like we do. If you are looking at the money, it’s in the private lessons for sure if it’s the bottom line you are looking at. We try and accommodate both the private and the public,” said Holmen. “It just seems like our demand is so high, I honestly can’t see how we are ever going to meet that demand.”
Stuffing more kids into public swim lessons is also not an option as class sizes are mandated for safety reasons.
“We also have a shortage of trained staff. We hired a bunch of new staff at Christmas time and we lost six experienced staff. Of the four we hired, only one had their instructor certification. The other three are in the process of getting it and by our summer lessons, they will be certified,” said Holmen.
Recreation board member Danielle Hansen was approached with a complaint that people were registering numerous people all at once, many not their own children which left people frustrated who took the time to wait in line.
“A parent had taken off work to go to registration in the morning and waited in line and there was a person at the front of the line that was registering 12 kids. I think maybe we shouldn’t allow that,” said Hansen. “They were registering other kids because the line was so long. Maybe we should co-ordinate with the mass registration because that has worked well in all our other sports.”