Published on Thursday, 13th Sep, 2018 at 3:00pm
The iconic Leuty Lifeguard Station sits surrounded by construction hoarding and heavy equipment, as it has since April. A sign on the fence optimistically suggests that construction will be complete by June 2018. One person we spoke to called it "a summer of lost selfie opportunities". Apart from the damage to its photogenic appeal during peak tourist season, the delay has meant extended construction headaches for area residents, and impacted operations of the Toronto Lifeguard Service.
As we reported in April, the City of Toronto had budgeted $300,000 to protect the 98 year-old Leuty Lifeguard Station from high water and flood damage, after record-high lake levels threatened the structure in 2017. The plan involved raising and moving the building some 10 meters onto a new steel foundation, as well as constructing stone revetments to protect the site.
The City of Toronto 2018-2027 Preliminary Capital Budget slated $200,000 for rescue work on structure, with an additional $100,000 set aside for stone revetments and sand grading to protect the site from erosion. The budget allocation was part of the $2 million Waterfront High Lake Effect Flooding Rehabilitation fund to address priority remediation work, which was financed by debt.
We reached out to the City of Toronto about the delay, but they were unable to provide a date when the fencing would come down. According to Jane Arbour, a spokesperson for the Toronto Parks, Forestry and Recreation Department, "The work undertaken this year to protect and secure the Leuty Lifeguard Station has been substantially completed. Work is underway on the dock and surrounding landscaping. "
Abrour said the delay was due to bad weather and construction challenges. "The original completion date for this project was adjusted as a result of severe weather events earlier in 2018, as well as additional engineering requirements related to the support beams."
Despite the three-month delay, the City says that the final cost is "expected to fall within budget projections" of $300,000.
The extended construction also impacted the Toronto Lifeguard Service. Leuty Lifeguard Station is headquarters for some 33 lifeguards of the Toronto Beach Lifeguard Program from June until Labour Day. The station is equipped with twelve rowboats, five paddleboards, a kayak, and a seventy-five horsepower Boston Whaler, and features a 10-meter tower which lifeguards use to survey the beach, and a dock for launching boats and rescue craft.
The importance of the Lifeguard Service was underlined this year by a string of high-profile drownings in the Beach. On July 21, a 34 year-old Unionville man drowned at Kew Beach just meters from the Lifeguard Station. On August 10, a 16 year-old student died at Woodbine Beach while attempting to save a mother and her son from drowning. Then last week, on September 8th, another man drowned near Balmy Beach Park. High waves, rough water or undertow were contributing factors in all of the incidents. After the second drowning in August, CBC News published an article critical of the training that Lifeguards receive in heavy surf rescue.
This year the Lifeguard Service was forced to move its operations to Woodbine Beach for the summer after the June completion date was scrapped. Lifeguards have used Leuty Lifeguard Station as their headquarters since it opened in June of 1920. As we reported earlier this year, the City of Toronto took over responsibility for Lifeguard operations from the Toronto Police Marine Unit in November of last year, following a recommendation from Mayor John Tory’s Way Forward Transformational Task Force.
The move, intended to trim $1.1 million from the Toronto Police budget, ended up costing taxpayers and additional $300,000 as the City budget for the Lifeguard program ballooned 27% to $1.4 million. That figure does not include funds for the current construction, which were budgeted separately.
With the City unable to provide a completion date, Beachers are left to wait and hope that construction fences will come down before the snow fences go up.