The Baycrest Centre in Toronto is launching a $1.8 million fundraising campaign to finance the construction of a new therapy pool that will be part of the new Kimel Family Centre for Brain Health and Wellness.
The Wagman Centre – which offers fitness, social and cultural programming – will close on May 5 and renovations will “begin imminently” on the building, which will be rebranded as the Kimel Family Centre, according to William Reichman, Baycrest’s president and CEO.
He said that the Kimel Family Centre will incorporate many programs that were offered at the Wagman Centre and will house a yoga studio, an arts studio, a performance and lecture space and activity rooms for social programs and educational courses.
“It will allow for customization of programs at an individual level and also support research to benefit older adults today and into the future,” he said.
Josh Cooper, president and CEO of the Baycrest Foundation, said that, “Baycrest always envisioned a comprehensive reconstruction and remodelling of the current pool and its surrounding area at a later phase of development, to support the creation of a new aquatic centre. Given the costs involved, we decided to launch this campaign now, so that we can focus on ensuring this exceptional facility will be equipped to provide the best and most expansive offerings as soon as possible.”
During the gap between the closing of the Wagman Centre and the opening of the Kimel Family Centre in 2020, Baycrest will partner with the Prosserman Jewish Community Centre to provide fitness programs, beginning in May, Reichman said.
However, at least some of the seniors who had been using the Wagman pool are unhappy with the current state of affairs. The pool closed in July 2018 and users were told at the time that renovations would take until February 2019 to complete. Now it appears that without new funding, the future of the pool is in doubt, said Miriam Swadron, who used to use it on a regular basis.
“A small group of us attended a meeting at the Wagman Centre, during which the gentlemen in charge of the new project tried to convince us about how wonderful it will all be. The response was less than enthusiastic,” Swadron said.
“We received a list of the classes that will be offered at Prosserman, in place of similar ones formerly offered at Wagman. Many people who have been going to the Wagman pool for many years cannot participate in land exercise programs, as their physical conditions are too advanced. Membership in Prosserman and it’s current programs were also offered, but their classes are for the general public and not appropriate for the majority of more mature seniors.”
Swadron had been using the pool for almost 20 years, until it closed last summer. A 71-year-old who suffers from arthritis, lupus and fibromyalgia, she said the exercise and education programs that used to be offered at the pool really helped her.
At around 33 C, the water was warmer than most city pools, it had access for people with disabilities, such as herself, and was large enough to accommodate group exercise classes. They’d get up to 20 seniors participating in the classes, she said.
There are few similar facilities in the city that meet all those criteria and some of her friends who used to benefit from the pool are finding that their conditions are worsening, she said.
Swadron believes the regular exercise classes have helped keep her mobile and out of a wheelchair.
“It’s not a luxury, it’s not recreational. It’s a medical necessity,” she said.
Sharon Singer also participated in the arthritis therapy programs at the Wagman pool.
She’s tried other facilities since the pool closed, but those attempts ended in disappointment. Most pools are heated to 29 C, which is noticeably less comfortable than the Wagman pool for the arthritis sufferers and seniors who used it, she said.
With the demise of the pool, she’s taken to dry land exercises as an alternative.
“They’re not as good. In the water, you can move more freely and the exercise are more beneficial over all,” she said.
“The Arthritis Society recommends warm pool therapy as the most effective exercise for arthritis sufferers,” reads a letter sent to The CJN by Singer and five other women. “Without this type of exercise, many former participants are getting weaker, have had falls, increased pain, stiffening joints and muscles, and worsening mobility.”
Singer said that, “This isn’t about me. It’s about a pool that is essential for people who need warm water exercises.”
Singer and Swadron are hoping that someone comes forward to finance the $1.8 million cost of the new pool.
“The Wagman pool has been one of the best warm therapy pools in the city and we believe that it can be saved if an ‘angel’ comes forward who could support the cost of the renovations, perhaps in honour of elderly parents who already live at the Terraces or are thinking of moving there,”the women state in their letter.