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Pemberton Meadows Community Centre could close

Staff recommendation to close centre gets blowback from Pemberton mayor

Staff at the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD) want to close the community centre they operate in the Pemberton Meadows, a move that's a concern for Pemberton's mayor.

In a report to the Pemberton Valley Utilities and Services committee (PVUS), a committee of valley residents that advises on recreation services, SLRD staff recommend the closure of the 35,000 square foot facility on Pemberton Meadows Road, which has classrooms, a rec room and gymnasium that hosts activities such as drop-in basketball and soccer practice.

The report states that four user groups would be displaced by the closure: basketball; winter soccer practice; Brownies/Sparks/Guides; and the Pemberton Boxing Club.

At the same time, there's a major cost burden on the regional district to keep the facility running. It costs $50,000 to $60,000 annually to run and it needs approximately $21,450 in repairs for features such as fire safety devices, a fire panel, circulation pumps and a water main supply in the boiler room.

On top of these costs, a whole new boiler may be needed within the next two years and that could come at a cost of anywhere between $10,000 and $15,000. There are likewise repairs needed for a chimney and general plumbing but cost estimates could not be obtained by the time the report was written.

Staff gave the committee three options: maintain operations with attendant/caretaker responsibilities with a user-pay system; maintain operations at the facility with an attendant and remove the caretaker position, also with a user-pay system; or cease operations at the centre altogether and move all users to other locations.

For Jordan Sturdy, mayor of the Village of Pemberton and a member of the committee, closing the facility wasn't an option and the committee voted instead to receive the staff report and refer the matter to the Pemberton/Area C Recreation Advisory Committee for more comments.

"I personally believe that there's an opportunity there which is unrealized," Sturdy said of the facility. "This is a 35,000 square foot facility that is available to the community on a lease basis from the school district for $1 a year, plus costs, and I believe that there's a business opportunity that can contribute to the revenue side of recreation, but we need to flesh that out a bit more.

"The provision of recreation is an issue that's been ongoing here."

As it stands, there are options for where groups currently operating at the centre can go. Drop-in basketball could operate at Signal Hill Elementary's gymnasium on Thursdays after 5 p.m. and at Pemberton Secondary's gymnasium on Thursdays after 7 p.m. Portable nets could also be purchased and placed in the great hall at the Cottonwood Community Centre.

Brownies/Sparks/Guides, meanwhile, could meet at Pemberton's youth centre and in the main building at the Cottonwood facility. There is space in the Great Hall on Friday nights, but that would require the group to change its meeting nights.

Winter soccer practice could also make use of the gymnasiums at Signal Hill and Pemberton Secondary.

SLRD Administrator Paul Edgington said in an e-mail that the recommendation to close the centre was driven mainly by rising costs to maintain the facility, as well as decreasing revenues and the effect that would have on the "requisition limit" for the service.

Edgington admits the opportunities are limited for people to play indoor basketball elsewhere in Pemberton but that there "are some opportunities for bookings."

Susie Gimse, director of Area C on the SLRD's board of directors and a councillor with the Village of Pemberton, said in an e-mail that the regional district will continue to refer items to the recreation committee that are relevant to its members.

Caroline Lamont, manager of development services with the Village of Pemberton, said some time ago she did a presentation of the Official Community Plan to Grade 11 students at Pemberton Secondary. Asked what was most important to youth, she got six topics back and a "key discussion point" was the need for a permanent solution to the need for a gymnasium in the community.

"They really like the old gym," she said. "They thought that the high school loan wasn't enough because the high school closes on staff holidays and during exams, so there were quite a few that were concerned with leasing the gym space."