‘It’s devastating’: Regina Marlins search for pool space as downtown YMCA closure looms

The downtown YMCA has been home to the Regina Marlins Swim Club for 53 years.

But their days are numbered.

Earlier this week, the Regina YMCA announced it will permanently close two of its health and fitness centres, due to financial challenges made worse by COVID-19.

The east location will close at the end of the day Friday. The downtown location, including the aquatic facility, will shutter Nov. 23.

Read more: Regina YMCA set to close downtown and east fitness, aquatic facilities

“It’s devastating,” said Marlins head coach Melina Jenkins, who first joined the club as a swimmer in 1997.

“It’s so hard knowing that my athletes really don’t have a place to go.”

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Come Monday, 46 of the club’s 58 swimmers won’t have a facility where they can train.

The closure affects the younger swimmers as well as the club’s non-competitive teenaged athletes, according to Marlins president Jessica George.

George says the club is scrambling to find pool space.

“Unfortunately, in the city of Regina, we have very limited space that isn’t already taken up by other clubs,” George said.

“To find adequate pool space for our swimmers is proving to be a little difficult on such short notice.”

The Marlins practise five to six days a week at the downtown YMCA.

Losing the space means only 12 of their competitive swimmers can continue in-water training during three weekly timeslots the club has at the Lawson Aquatic Centre, which reduces the swimmers’ practice time from 13 hours a week to just four hours.

“We cannot sustain a club on 12 swimmers,” George said.

“If we don’t find somewhere to practise, we don’t have a club.”

A new pool could be coming down the pike, but it will take time.

During the municipal election campaign, Regina mayor-elect Sandra Masters committed to building an $85-million aquatic centre by 2024.

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“The idea of an aquatic centre for Regina is probably even more important now,” Masters said.

“We do have a responsibility to provide recreational facilities to our citizens and probably planning into 2021 is more important than ever.”

Read more: New or improved — What Regina’s mayoral candidates are promising for recreation facilities

According to the City of Regina, demand for pool time greatly outweighs availability, particularly now with COVID-19 restrictions.

“In addition to supporting pool user groups, we aim to provide the public with access to a range of programs including swimming lessons, fitness classes, lane swimming and public leisure swimming,” the city said in a statement to Global News.

“We have been able to accommodate the Marlins Swim Club, who have been displaced from the YMCA, for a portion of their needs and will continue how to explore how best to meet the needs of all residents moving forward. “

George is hopeful the club will get its members back in the water in the new year.

If that doesn’t happen, Jenkins says they’ll lose their swimmers to other clubs or other sports.

“It’s just so uncertain,” Jenkins said.

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Impacts of COVID-19

The possibility of reduced membership isn’t the only thing creating uncertainty in the Marlins’ future.

Like everything, COVID-19 has impacted the club’s financials.

Restrictions forced the swimmers out of water in March, only allowing them back in mid-September.

“For us as a club, we had zero water contact for almost six full months,” Jenkins said.

“How we swim and who we’re swimming with is very, very different now.”

Before the pandemic, the club could share the pool with the public or other teams, lowering pool fees and pool costs.

But now, it has to rent out the entire pool and limited swimmers are allowed to train at the same time.

“It’s hard to say what long-term it would do to us because we’re really only two months into this season,” Jenkins said.

“Everybody’s hurting, everybody’s struggling to stay afloat and this is hard for (the YMCA) and it’s certainly going to be hard for us as a club to go through.”

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