Safety concerns force permanent closure of Marathon’s Port Hole Pool

Marathon council has voted to permanently close the town’s Port Hole Pool after an inspection this summer showed serious structural issues with the 40-year-old facility.

In an interview with CBC News, Marathon Mayor Rick Dumas said the inspection took place in July; the pool is closed during the summer months for maintenance.

While the pool is regularly inspected by staff during the summer, this year, staff “looked a little more closely and found that the actual beams were a lot more deteriorated than we thought,” Dumas said.

That led to a formal inspection by a structural engineer and architect, which found significant damage to the pool’s structure, he said.

“These are facilities that have got a lot of humidity, moisture, chlorination chemicals that deteriorate buildings a lot quicker,” Dumas said. “It’s one of those things that we continue to try to maintain and keep up on, but these were unknowns, and once we peeled back that foam insulation, realized the impact it had on the deterioration of that metal, we cannot keep the facility open.”

Repairing the damage would cost Marathon about $5 million, a report to council states. Council formally voted to close the pool earlier this month.

“We made a tough decision,” Dumas said. “But the decision was about the safety of our residents more than anything, and we’re going to try to operate different programs over the winter in our Lakeview Hall, as well as different things we can provide throughout the community centres or schools.”

New recreational facility in the works

However, hopefully it won’t be too long before Marathon residents can hit the pool once again. Dumas said work to develop and build a new recreational facility, which will include a pool, is underway.

“We were hoping to keep that pool open until we built a new one,” he said. “But the reality is we will continue to keep the arena and theatre open, but we’ll definitely focus all of our efforts on building a new facility.”

That facility is expected to cost between $56 million and $65 million, Dumas said, and current plans call for it to include a theatre, pool, larger arena and some meeting rooms.

Marathon Mayor Rick Dumas said the decision to permanently close the municipality’s Port Hole Pool was a tough one for councillors. The pool was closed after an inspection found serious structural issues. (Marc Doucette/CBC)

Marathon is hoping to receiving funding support from upper levels of government and other sources. A final design is expected in early 2024, and the project would go to tender after that.

Meanwhile, Marathon’s Silver Pikes Swim Club said it was “profoundly disheartened” by the pool’s closure: in a statement to CBC News, the club said with nowhere to swim, it was shutting down, at least temporarily.

“Our anticipation for a significant year ahead, marked by the training of new coaches, new executive team, and a resurgence in club membership post-Covid, has been abruptly shattered by the unexpected news of the pool’s closure,” the statement reads. “With no aquatic facilities within a radius of 300 km, the club’s existence has come to a halt.”

“Current and future swim team members will be affected for years due to the lack of safety and life skills. Our swimmers developed not only these skills but also personal resilience and social skills. The club provided unique opportunities for obtaining scholarships and bursaries that may not have been otherwise available to these swimmers.”

The Silver Pikes said all of the club’s endeavours are currently on hold, and its future is contingent on the construction of Marathon’s new active living centre.

“We aspire to engage in a dialogue with the town, aiming to chart a path ahead amidst these challenging circumstances,” the statement reads. “The Silver Pikes’ executive team is poised to regroup as soon as a swim facility becomes accessible to us.”

The club also noted that the pool’s closure will lead to staffing challenges if and when a new facility is built.

“Because of the loss of the pool and swim team, it will be difficult to rebuild an employment base of lifeguards and pool staff when a pool becomes available, as most skilled swimmers in Marathon were trained and emerged from the Silver Pikes Swim Club,” the statement reads.

While work on a new facility continues, Dumas said Marathon is considering other options for swimmers, at least in the summer months.

“People utilize the outdoor lakes all around,” he said. “The big lake’s not so comforting. The temperature doesn’t really go up in Lake Superior much over the summer.”

“But we have [the] great Penn Lake Park in our community that we own, and we have had preliminary discussions around that,” Dumas said. “What does that look like, for us providing some lifeguarding services maybe over the summer months?”

“We’ll continue to have talks around that over the winter, and see if we can provide some sort of programming for our youth, and all residents alike, by having some sort of lifeguarding services at the park. That’s not a guarantee, but that’s the discussion we’re going to have over the winter.”

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