A group of residents on Montreal's South Shore is fighting a municipal decision to replace a decrepit public pool with a daycare.
"I raised my children here," said long-time Saint-Lambert resident Sandra Morellato.
"So coming here to the wading pool, and then the larger pool for many years, I actually trained here and swam laps."
For many years, the outdoor swimming pool and wading area in the city's Préville Park would come alive in the summer with families looking to beat the heat.
But the pool was beyond repair after breaking down a final time last year, so the city opted to sell off the land and use the revenue to build a nearby splash pad.
At the same time, Mayor Pascale Mongrain explained in a news release last month, the property would help fill the need for daycare spots in the area — something, she says, that was on many residents' minds during the last election campaign.
On June 13, the Saint-Lambert council adopted a resolution confirming its intention to sell the swimming pool land to CPE Agathe La Girafe, a public daycare, so it can build a new, prefabricated facility that offers 80 new daycare places and opens in the winter of 2024.
But when the city announced its plan, it was met with backlash.
Petition gathers steam
Morellato said neighbours were never consulted on the decision. Now an online petition is gathering steam, garnering more than 650 signatures as of Monday.
The petition says selling municipal park space "represents an unacceptable precedent and is a threat to the preservation of our parks in Saint-Lambert."
"The population is entitled to expect that elected officials consult it for any zoning change affecting parks and green spaces prior to a vote," the petition says.
Trying to hold a public consultation would have slowed down a project that, with help from the Quebec government, must be completed within two years, Mongrain said.
No trees would need to be cut, the size of the land is good, and many parents are desperate for a daycare spot, she said. No consultation is needed in a case when land is being sold for medical or educational use, she added.
The Ministry of Families is investing $1.8 million in the project, and 20 jobs will be created, the city says.
"We have been working for several years now to provide Saint-Lambert residents with extra daycare places," says Lyse Camerlain, executive director of CPE Agathe la Girafe, in the city's news release.
"By the end of the process, we will be offering a total of 253 places across our three facilities and will have more than 90 employees."
The city must still take steps such as obtaining government and municipal approvals with regard to the applicable land-use rules and regulations, the release says. The mayor said the sale of the land is not final yet, but city officials are hoping to push ahead with the project.
"We made this decision thinking it was going to be unanimous, thinking it was going to make the residents of this neighbourhood happy," Mongrain said. "And well, we made a mistake."
She said she apologized at the last council meeting for not holding consultations specific to the project, but it fits within the city's urban plan which was approved this summer by the public.
Pool wasn't popular anyway, mayor says
Building a daycare would meet the needs of the community, Mongrain said, while the pool was in disrepair and, even when it was still open, not very popular.
She said the city already has two public pools that are more popular — that's more pools than other cities of similar size — and many residents in the surrounding neighborhood have backyard pools already.
Nicole Paquin has lived in the neighbourhood for years, and said the plan makes sense considering how many parents are searching for daycare spots.
"I think it's a very good idea," she said. "It's local. Don't have to go too far. They don't have to search."
On top of it all, Mongrain said, there's no way the city can get the old pool up and running — or replace it.
"We have no money to build a new pool," she said. "We know that there is a dire need for spots in daycare and we want to respond to that need."
But residents like Isabelle Gendron say they plan to fight the decision.
"Even if you have a pool in your backyard, it's important to have a community centre where people can meet and send their kids when they're working to have surveillance [supervision]," she said.