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Laurentian pool's local economic impact 'immense', facility must re-open coaches argue

Coaches of the three major users of the Jeno Tihanyi Olympic Gold Pool also dispute university claim needs millions in repairs, saying without users thousands of dollars a month are wasted keeping it functional

The Jeno Tihanyi Pool at Laurentian University must be reopened, argue the head coaches of the facility's three major users.

In an open letter, Dean Henze, head coach of the Laurentian Swim Club, Phil Parker, head coach of Laurentian Masters Swimming, and Courtney Stasiu, head coach of the Sudbury Synchro Swimming Club, say the economic and health benefits of having the olympic-sized swimming pool operational are such that keeping the pool closed makes no sense.

The pool has been closed since March, 2020, when it was closed as the pandemic shutdown swept the country. However, on Dec. 14, 2020, Marie-Josée Berger, the university provost and vice-president academic, informed the community and users the pool was in dire need of repairs in the range of $10 million.

This has kept the pool closed as the university works its way through the CCAA process ( after Laurentian declared its insolvency in February.

The coaches don't buy the argument the pool needs repairs.

"We believe that this information is inaccurate," the coaches said in the signed letter. "The pool was functional in March. Indeed, an important valve had been replaced and the pool was functioning well. As you may be aware, the pool continues to be full of water which is being filtered and heated at a significant cost — and no funds are coming in from users to help cover the costs. 

"The pool is ready to receive athletes of all abilities, once Public Health Sudbury is notified and a 14-day notice is given."

It is costing upwards of $10,000 a month just to maintain the pool, but no users are offsetting those costs with their fees.

Sudbury's economy also benefits from the pool being open, the coaches said, to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars a year generated by regular swim meets and regional events. Jeno Tihanyi Pool hosts five swim meets alone every year, each of which brings in about $75,000 a weekend, the coaches estimate, or $375,000 a year.

This doesn't take into account the synchronized swimming competitions, which draw hundreds more people from across Eastern and Northern Ontario to Sudbury.

"The health benefits of the Jeno Tihanyi pool are evident and obvious. The economic benefits are immense," the coaches say in their letter. "Competitions draw athletes and their families to Sudbury from across southern and northern Ontario. These groups rent hotel rooms, dine in restaurants, shop in our stores and visit our attractions. Many out-of-town teams also rent large numbers of available rooms in Laurentian residences."

In terms of its value to the athletic community in Sudbury, in Northern Ontario and beyond, Jeno Tehanyi's importance cannot be understated, the coaches argue.

It is the only 50-metre pool between the Toronto area and Thunder Bay. It represents 45 per cent of the available "lane-space" in the city, and 100 per cent of the 50-metre lane space in Central and Northeastern Ontario. 

And besides, legendary Canadian gold-medal swimmer Alex Baumann, who won two gold medals and set two world records at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, trained there.

Without the pool, its three major users — Laurentian Swim Club, Sudbury Synchro Swim Club, and Laurentian Masters Swimming — are severely impacted, the coaches said. It leaves the synchonized swimmers with no place to train and can't survive without the pool. The more than 70 master swimmers are left without a training facility. The Laurentian Swim Club and its 80 swimmers worry for the future of the club without a 50-metre pool in which to train.

"The ricochet of this closure can be felt by every swim club north of the GTA including Orangeville, Barrie, Orillia, Owen Sound, Muskoka, North Bay, Temiskaming Shores, Kirkland Lake, Hearst, Cochrane, Timmins, Iroquois Falls ,and Sault Ste Marie," the coaches state. "They all attend competitions in Sudbury several times every year. Other casualties include the Special Olympics and SWAM, which aims to educate and teach swimming lessons."

In conclusion, the coaches called on Laurentian, city council and the provincial and federal governments to find a solution to ensure the pool remains an asset instead of becoming a liability.

"The pool is a casualty of Laurentian’s insolvency and the COVID-19 pandemic. Its continued closure is unnecessary," the coaches said. "The pool is being under-utilized and all of us would like to help put it back into operation. We recognize the restructuring process takes time, but we have already given up two seasons worth of training time. We know the pool is fine for swimming."