A northeast Edmonton pool narrowly saved from the city's chopping block is opening for the first time in 21 months.
The Eastglen Leisure Centre, a city pool in the Bellevue neighbourhood, opened Tuesday morning.
Local swimmers have been eagerly waiting to take a dip in the facility's vintage salt water pool for a long time, said Bellevue resident Mark Fritsch.
The pool, first shuttered by pandemic public health restrictions, then nearly closed for good, is up and running again after extensive renovations.
"We've been waiting for this for a couple of years now," Fritsch said as he entered the pool on opening day. "The pool is an integral part of the community."
Fritsch said he was part of a letter-writing campaign to keep the facility operational.
"We had a big push, as a community, to get this re-opened because it's just vital for us here….We hope the city will understand the value of this pool and will keep it open."
'On the chopping block'
The pool has been closed since March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic's first wave prompted the city to close recreation facilities across Edmonton.
In the months that followed, city budget deliberations threatened to keep the pool, constructed in the 1970s, closed permanently.
The facility was among five community recreation facilities recommended for closure amid proposed budget cuts triggered by the financial impacts of the pandemic.
A review showed the city could save $900,000 a year in operational costs if it closed the pool.
In December 2020, facing public opposition, council voted unanimously to reinstate the funds needed to keep Eastglen operational. But the facility remained closed due to public health restrictions and a summer swimming season marked by city staffing shortages.
Renovations to the pool further delayed its re-opening. A $650,000 rehabilitation project on the pool started in September and was completed late last month.
Work included a fresh coat of paint, renovations to the change rooms, new flooring and tiles and upgrades to the pool's electrical, mechanical and drainage systems.
Yvonne Dicristafaro, a water fitness instructor at Eastglen, said she has been swimming at the pool for 30 years.
She said the pool is a popular place for residents of all ages, but especially among seniors who rely on the space for water therapy.
The facility, she said, feels like home.
"There was talk that COVID was going to be the end of it," she said. "But they got the doors open, so we're happy."
"It looks really bright and clean and nice in there so it's going to be great for the community to get back in there."
In a statement to CBC News, city spokesperson Christopher Webster said the city remains committed to keeping the facility accessible to the community.
That was welcome news for Roberta Grossman. She and her husband, Dustin Grossman, took their son for a quick swim on opening day.
"We were deeply concerned that this was going to close," she said. "Every budget cycle, it always seems like this pool is on the chopping block."
Grossman said having a small pool located close to home is vital to the neighbourhood, especially during the fourth wave of the pandemic when family-friendly activities remain limited.
"It's great to have a local pool open so we can take our kids and have some family time."
Her five-year-old son, Ty, agreed.
"I feel like going to the pool," Ty said. "I like to do cannonballs."