Town seeking grant to renovate pool, centre

Merna Emara
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The Town of Fort Frances is seeking a grant as part of the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program, to carry out renovations at the Memorial Sports Centre in Fort Frances.

The grant application states that there are some structural issues the building is dealing with that need to be renovated in order to serve the needs of Fort Frances residents.

Aaron Bisson, recreation and culture manager, said the town found that the facility is not meeting the needs of its members.

“We are hopeful that the grant comes through and we get the funding for it,” Bisson said. “The sports centre was built a number of years ago and it could use a bit of a face lift. It would be a great project for the people of Fort Frances and the people working there as well. It is fairly old and there has not been a lot of work done to it. Over the years things change and people’s needs change. We thought the best way to address those needs is to comfortably allow people to use the facility the way it is intended to be used.”

The town is already at the second stage of the grant applicant. The second stage allows council to pass a resolution supporting the project should it be funded by the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation, while also agreeing to cover any costs the renovation project may encounter.

The current projected cost of the project is $4.6 million. Of this total, the town requested $3.7 million from NOHFC, but they have not committed to anything at this point. A Trillium accessibility funding of $500,000 is also pending. If all funding is approved, the municipal contribution will be $467,500.

“If the grant was unsuccessful or if the portion of the funding from NOHFC was not enough, then the project will probably not go ahead, Bisson said. However, in a worst case scenario in which partial funding was approved, the town could find itself contributing to the project from $1 million to $2 million.

“There are options to scale back the project so the number of things we are doing will not be as big,” Bisson said. “We have many options, but the ultimate goal is what we presented.”

If the grant was approved, the MSC would be expanded and renovated, something Bisson said is essential.

“Under the addition, we would change the location of the pool,” Bisson said. “The old pool area would be turned into something else. We would be building new change rooms that would be accessible and we would have family change rooms to be in compliance with the rules in place in 2025. We would be increasing the size of our gym and having the ability to enter the gym from an entrance that was separate from our main entrance. That way, people can use it outside of our operating hours.”

The proposed objectives in the grant application also includes increasing the size of the cardio room for offering appropriate pieces of equipment, having a wide range of machinery to choose from, dealing with humidity and temperature issues and adding more fitness classes.

Ian McKay, 29, said he is beyond excited to see the town working to address the shortcomings of the MSC and propose changes that will positively serve Fort Frances residents.

“Everyone having the right to access the health and fitness in their means and in their comfort is one of the most important things to bring a community together,” McKay said. “It is one of the most exciting things I have heard in a long time to come to Fort Frances.”

McKay, born and raised in Fort Frances, said he has been going to the MSC since he was 17 years old. He worked there as a personal trainer for about 10 years before establishing his own personal training business. During his employment at the MSC, McKay said he petitioned for renovations because he felt the desperate need to upgrade parts of the facility.

“I think the biggest renovations should be creating more space for everyone to have access, especially that we have such an aging population currently,” McKay said. “One of the key elements of having a healthy aging population is the availability of activity. Right now we are kind of cramped for space. We don’t have a lot of access for those who currently might have disabilities to have ease of access to those pools.”

Building a new pool is the first proposed objective, which aims to allow no interruption to the current pool at the MSC while the new one is getting built.

“Part of the reason for seeking this expansion as well is we have significant repairs that need to be done to our pools and we would have to shut it down from between four to six months if we were to go down the road of renovating the old pool,” Bisson said. “I am hoping we can build a new pool instead of putting all that money into the old pool and be able to open seamlessly without having to close the centre to our users.”

One of the proposed renovation objectives is expanding the change rooms, which McKay said is essential, especially going through the [COVID-19] crisis that we are going through right now.

“The change rooms need a definite upgrade and expansion to make sure there is family access,” McKay said. “There is not a safe change room for disabled individuals or individuals who are transgender. The general cleanliness and maintenance of the facility is a number one priority.”

There are currently monthly, annual, bi-annual and daily memberships. The current rate for an annual membership for adult is $516.42 and $256.68 for students. However, Bisson said these prices will only be subject to inflation as per the fee bylaws. The part of the bill the town pays will not be levied on members, Bisson said.

“Our prices increase with inflation,” Bisson said. “We don’t accept there to be a large jump in the fees for the facility.”

If approved for the grant, renovation work is set to begin in the spring of 2021 and will be completed sometime in 2022. The MSC can currently accommodate about 450 individuals. After the completion, the facility is expected to shelter double that number.

“In order for anything to get better, there has to be a process,” McKay said. “If you are waiting for something amazing, the wait is worth it. If there is enough communication coming down from what is taking place, if there is enough excitement brought in, it is a lot easier to go without when you know you are going to be gaining so much more. It seems like a long time, but it is also something for the next 25 years. It is the hub of the town. It is where you learn to skate. It is where you learn to swim. It is where you go with your friends. It is a place that you are going to grow up in and we need to be patient if we are going to bring things for our future generations as well.”