Monday, November 01, 2004

Community Centres Now Have Unisex Change Rooms, Showers

Oct. 28, 2004. 01:00 AM
Unisex change area raises eyebrows
Rec centre change draws complaint
Stall system better for young families
MIKE FUNSTON
STAFF REPORTER

A Mississauga parent has torn a strip off city officials for replacing men's and women's change rooms and showers with one unisex facility at two Mississauga community centres.

The change has also prompted the Peel District School Board to impose strict rules for the use of such facilities by students attending school swim programs.

"They had no right or mandate to remove separate male and female change rooms," Sherri Thomson, the mother of a 14-year-old who uses the city pools with a synchronized swim team, told city council yesterday. Having her daughter changing in a stall between a 15-year-old boy and a 35-year-old man, either of whom could stand on a bench and peer in, is not a comforting thought, she said.

For personal comfort and safety, people shouldn't be denied the option of gender-specific dressing rooms, Thomson said.

The switch came when the Mississauga Valley and Huron Park community centres were renovated. With space too limited to include both, the separate dressing rooms and showers were replaced by one large room with private stalls for both sexes. Showers were moved to the pool decks, where bathers can rinse in swimsuits.

"There is no (public) nudity involved," said community services commissioner Paul Mitcham, adding the facilities were installed for the safety and convenience of parents with young children. The private, lockable stalls let a parent supervise a child of the opposite sex, instead of having to send the child in alone. The system has been used at the Chinguacousy Wellness Centre in Brampton for seven years without incident, he said.

Before the centres were renovated, Mitcham said, there was public consultation and overwhelming support for common change rooms. But Thomson's complaint to a trustee resulted in a letter to principals from the Peel board, setting restrictions for safety, supervision, logistics and "the comfort level of our diverse communities." It bans mixed-gender swim classes at the two pools, and requires that a teacher of the same gender be present at single-sex classes.