“We wanted this to be a world class state of the art facility that people, especially thosein aquatic sports, would not only talk about – but use extensively. That’s just what happened.” - Bob Singleton
By David Grossman
Dreams can often become a spectacular and breath-taking reality.
Bob Singleton and Rafael Torre know all about that.
Have a lengthy conversation, particularly with Singleton, and be prepared to take a trip through the birth of what is the striking Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre (TPASC).
It was many, many years back, when there were meetings that involved quite a bit of chatter and high on the list was a vision. That perception was one that everyone, optimistically, anticipated would lead to the creation of a unique facility.
More like the concept and formulation of a venue that became the talk of the town. It certainly has – and well beyond 2015, too.
While the Pan Am Games had already been awarded to Toronto in 2015, for the first time since the Games started in 1951, there was still lots to be done in preparation for a spectacle of amateur sport competition. It would be a major event for Toronto, Ontario and Canada.
After those Games wrapped up, where a large number of countries sent many of their best to compete, Singleton reminds people that a huge gift still exists; a legacy. That gift is also one that has elated swimmers: beginners and those who enjoy the sport, to those whose passion is to thrive to excel on a global scale in competitions around the world.
“It’s a world class state-of-the-art facility,” said Singleton. “Once you enter, it’s really something very special.”
Singleton and Torre, although not coaches or officials, are quite ambitious individuals. Both have had a huge say in the success of swimmers – and an overwhelming majority of them from Ontario.
They say perseverance, persistence and determination were all factors that would eventually result in quite a bit of expression and revelation about an impressive facility and a dream paradise.
That is true, especially for those who enjoy being in water. The community-at-large also benefitted from an additional physical fitness and exercise complex.
This legacy project has three separate bodies of water, including two Olympic sized tanks requiring approximately 3,800,000 litres of water to fill each of them. The third body of water a world class diving tank with capability of 1 metre diving boards up to a 10 metre platform.
TPASC is the home base for the Ontario Swimming Academy (OSA and Para Academy), a Swim Ontario deliverable. The provincial sport governing body uses the facility for High Performance sport and training, as well as for championships and special events. Also under the same roof is the High Performance Centre Ontario (HPCO), who boast a successful Olympic and International record of achievement. Many other groups and Swim Ontario clubs use the entire facility for training and competition.
Dean Boles, Chief Executive Officer of Swim Ontario, is well aware of the major contribution the facility brings to the swim community.
“There’s no doubt about it, this facility has been a game-changer and a real difference-maker for Ontario’s swim community,” he said. “Singleton and Torre, great friends of high-performance swimming, are amongst the leaders in maintaining a unique partnership that has worked very well.”
Chief Executive Officer at Canadian Sport Institute Ontario (CSIO) Debbie Low knows that the Toronto sports complex has become a hub and home for dozens of athletes in 43 different sports. Still, years after it opened, Low calls it incredibly inspiring to realize that there actually is a facility.
“There was always a vision to have something like this in Toronto,” said Low. “It’s a place to train, but also one for high performance athletes to connect, collaborate and have access to great coaches and staff.”
Low, giving high praise to Singleton and Torre, said both are individuals who “listen, have a real pulse on what’s happening and respond when needed”.
Singleton and Torre, who have every reason to brag about the complex, say that beyond the competition pool there’s also a training pool for fitness member and community swimming. Quite unique, the training pool has two moveable walls and a movable floor section that can adjust the depth to level with the deck.
Phenomenal is one way of putting it.
Others call the legacy of the Pan Am Games an eloquent marvel for athletes and coaches as well as an ideal place for the community interested in physical fitness.
To make it all happen required more than just bricks and mortar, but a genuine working agreement – one that involved the City of Toronto and the University of Toronto. The municipality and one of North America’s top educational institutions, would partner in fiscal responsibility. At stake, an outstanding 300,000 square foot facility.
Not an easy task, especially in many other locations around the world. But Toronto was, and still is, special. A genuine and caring individual, Singleton, as he explains, was “hired to take care of business”.
As Managing Director, and the first person employed for this striking structure of beauty, Singleton is no rookie; starting at 19 years old when he worked at the Montreal Olympic Games. His professional background is impressive, and Singleton came to TPASC after building a rewarding sport and event business at Downsview Park. He’s also overseen several Molson Indy races in Canada, and the list goes on.
“We wanted this to be a world class state of the art facility that people, especially those in aquatic sports, would not only talk about – but use extensively,” said Singleton. “That’s just what happened. The plan was to have the place busy and operational 12 months of the year.”
Operating a facility doesn’t just mean opening the doors. A huge challenge, some would refer to it as an undertaking, is to keep the partners of the facility satisfied. Building a professional and competent team that keeps the complex financially feasible throughout the year is also crucial.
“There was a model and that model became a busy building,” said Singleton. “We needed a staff, more like a big family, of full and part-time people that allowed the facility to be used by multiple people with many disabilities and abilities.”
Singleton has a number of senior staff on his team. He turns to Torre, the Director of Sport and Recreation, quite a bit as his major responsibility focuses on sport and recreation.
“Running a world class facility is not something you think about as a kid,” said Torre, a former four-time Athlete of the Year at Toronto’s De La Salle College before shuffling off to Oakland University in Rochester, Mich. on a sports scholarship.
“When I was working at the YMCA, I was fortunate to operate a facility and take on multiple roles in youth programs and community engagement. At (TPASC), everywhere you turn, you see the success of our overall plan. That was, and still is, to accomplish our goals and create a place that would do so much for so many.”
From architectural drawings to what became a reality, swimmers are well aware of their luxury paradise.
David Grossman is a veteran award-winning Journalist, Broadcaster with some of Canada’s major media, including the Toronto Star and SPORTSNET 590 THE FAN, and a Public Relations professional for 45+ years in Canadian sports and Government relations.