Regina committee votes to make Wascana Pool waterslides fully accessible after this summer's grand opening

Sarah Turnbull proudly displays an image of her and her four-year-old daughter Blake on the cover of the City of Regina's leisure guide.  (Alexander Quon/CBC - image credit)
Sarah Turnbull proudly displays an image of her and her four-year-old daughter Blake on the cover of the City of Regina's leisure guide. (Alexander Quon/CBC - image credit)

Accessibility advocates have successfully persuaded Regina officials to ensure the new Wascana Pool is fully accessible and make it among the first outdoor pools in the country to have an elevator-accessible waterslide.

Sarah Turnbull is the mother of four-year-old Blake, who is a paraplegic. On Wednesday she went in front of the city's executive committee, urging them to allow for all children and youths to enjoy everything the newly revamped Wascana Pool has to offer.

"The only reason she can't go down a waterslide is because of infrastructure, not her disability," Turnbull said.

The emotional testimony given by Turnbull and other advocates appear to have successfully swayed the members of executive committee.

They voted unanimously to approve an amendment that will result in the construction of an elevator system that will allow people with disabilities to use the nine-metre tall waterslides. The decision will now go to city council for a final vote.

Advocates say they believe the fully accessible waterslide should've been included from the beginning, but that they're happy their voices were listened to.

Krystal Johnson said she isn't frustrated, because she's been advocating for accessibility since the age of 12.

She appeared before executive committee, urging them to make sure children don't experience what she has in the past.

"So I wanted to go up on the waterslides, but because there were stairs and I was in a wheelchair and I couldn't stand or walk, I would actually plop myself on the floor and I would drag myself up each step up to the waterslide," she said.

Ward 7 Coun. Terina Nelson introduced the amendment on Wednesday. She is Johnson's mother and has a long history of accessibility advocacy.

"A lot of times it wasn't advocating for Krystal, but it was advocating for the mothers and the fathers that don't have the voice or the knowledge that we had," she said on Wednesday.

When her amendment passed, Nelson was brought to tears.

Lessons of today, applied to the buildings of tomorrow

Regina's Wascana Pool has been shuttered since 2019. It was demolished and has been rebuilt into a brand new $16.5-million facility.

Many of the amenities offered at the pool were designed and built with accessibility in mind, including inclusive and multi-purpose accessible washrooms and changerooms, a lap pool and a hot tub with ramp access and pool lifts.

The pair of nine-metre tall waterslides were not.

City of Regina/Facebook
City of Regina/Facebook

A staff report in front of executive committee on Wednesday found that city staff consulted with accessibility groups in the process of developing the new pool in 2019. However, at the time they were unable to find any examples in the country of a fully accessible waterslide.

Due to budget constraints and space required, it was ultimately determined that one of the smaller slides at the pool would be made fully accessible instead.

Turnbull said Blake is proud of her advocacy will continue to do it in the future.

She said she''s not just fighting for Blake, but working to ensure that everyone has the same rights and access.

"I hope that the lessons today are applied to buildings of tomorrow so that we're not here as an afterthought. It's thought of first and front-most of mind," Turnbull said.

The Wascana Pool will open as planned this summer. If council approves the decision, the new elevator system could be built and ready within 12 months, meaning it could potentially be available by 2024.

The elevator carries an additional $555,000 in capital costs and an annual operating cost of $27,000.

The capital costs would be covered by the city's adaptive fund. Half will come in the 2023/2024 budget while the other half will come in 2024/2025.

Some councillors expressed concern over using that money, and were successful in getting an amendment that would have city administration reach out to other organizations, including the provincial government, to help cover the cost.