As the COVID-19 pandemic was in the midst of its first wave in Nova Scotia, the board of the Lunenburg and District Swimming Pool Society had a difficult decision to make about the summer ahead.
Volunteer members were meeting four times more often than usual to try to find a way to open the outdoor community pool.
Now, at the end of August, the summer is being hailed as a success. The pool became a community hub for families looking to get out of the house while offering swim teams from around the province a place to train.
But this summer has also come with a big financial hit for the non-profit pool.
"There's no doubt we're going to lose a lot of money this summer," said Claire Holt, the society's president.
"We just thought, if we have to take the hit, we have to take the hit, because it was more important that the community had a place to go."
With no competitions or canteen sales, the board looked for other ways to raise money. They offered two national lifeguard certification courses, were able to hold swim lessons in August and ran a raffle fundraiser.
As one of the few open pools, they were also able to offer training spaces to swim teams looking to practise — which lead to more advanced training for the Lunenburg Mariners.
The Halifax Trojan Aquatic Club, as well as the Wolfville Tritons, came once a week to train.
"For coaching and for swimmers, the pinnacle of training is training in a pool that's outdoors. That is the ultimate," said Mark McGrann, head coach of the Halifax club.
'It was just perfect'
McGrann said it was extremely difficult to find pool space this summer, as both their two main pools have been closed since March.
The team even trained at Long Lake Provincial Park when there were no pools available, but McGrann said the swimmers missed having walls to push off and diving blocks.
"They had an absolute blast. We had the barbecue on deck, the parents liked it, it was a social but safe environment. It was just perfect," he said.
"It's not the gloomy, sticky, sweaty, indoor underground pools that we're used to."
McGrann offered to help the new Mariners head coach and the Trojans staff also put on instructional clinics.
"I think the really big winner was the butterfly clinic, the kids were very excited by the things they learned doing butterfly," Holt said.
Mariners head coach Madison Ottens said she was grateful to work with the year-round swim teams and the kids learned a lot.
"They were really excited. It was a really good opportunity for them to have more social experiences and get back in the water," she said.
COVID-19 changes at the pool
The teams were limited to 50 at a time in the pool area, including coaching staff. There were also temperature checks, physical distancing, face shields, hand sanitization and a lot more cleaning.
The locker rooms had to remain closed, but Holt said it didn't seem to bother anyone who used the pool.
"When we opened, the response was amazing. We had people dropping off gifts to the staff to say thank you," Holt said.
Carmen Jaeger put her two children, eight-year-old Titus and nine-year-old Merle, in swimming lessons as soon as she could.
"We were not expecting much because of the special COVID situation. But we were very thrilled that [the pool opened]," Jaeger said, adding that it's a short walk from their home to go for a swim.
"We were not concerned about our safety because we knew they would make it right and protect us."
Holt said she was most proud of being able to give the community a place to go this summer.
"I'm a teacher and I know kids have been home for so long. I talk to parents who are so stressed and worried about their kids. When you don't have activities to go to, if you don't have a goal for your day, it can lead to depression," she said.
"But this was a destination every day and a place for kids to go."
The Trojans were able to end the summer with an in-house competition at the Lunenburg pool, which McGrann said was a huge hit.
He also said he hopes to see the relationship continue next summer.
"The board who runs the facility, they do an amazing job. And in adversity they really stepped up, so we're really impressed and really, really grateful for that."
Holt said they've learned a lot this year and hope that will translate into an earlier opening date in 2021, even if COVID restrictions continue.
"We're hoping that, because we've learned so much, because we've found out where to acquire equipment, that next year will be a better year."
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