Brussels residents eager to reinvigorate community centre - April 19, 2018
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
Improvements at the Brussels, Morris and Grey Community Centre seemed poised to go ahead after Monday night’s special community meeting that saw nearly 120 people attend.
The Brussels, Morris and Grey Recreation Board hosted the meeting, which focused on the renovation and expansion of the centre, mainly the transformation of four existing change rooms into two larger rooms and the addition of four change rooms.
Some, however, felt the proposed improvements didn’t go far enough and challenged both council and the community to aim higher, knowing that with increased expectations would come increased costs.
Paul Mutter was one of the community members to speak and he suggested that if improvements were to be made to the building, it should be done right the first time.
Alvin McLellan, a member of the recreation board and a Huron East councillor, said that the board was not tied to the modest proposal – which is estimated to cost $750,000 to implement – and is open to suggestions from the community. The only thing he asked everyone to remember is that if the improvements are expanded, it will cost more and much of that cost will have to come from fundraising.
Brett Fischer, Jeff McGavin and Don Chesher all spoke to that point, saying that more than six change rooms will be needed and that the renovations needed to reach even further.
The question of funding was present throughout the lengthy discussion and began with Grey resident Daniel Fritz, who presented council with his petition that had been circulated for the past two weeks.
The petition, which had garnered 524 signatures, asks Huron East Council to re-allocate $150,000 in proceeds from the sale of the former Brussels Public School building to renovations at the community centre. The funds had been recommended for the centre by staff, but council opted to place the funds in general reserves.
Mayor Bernie MacLellan insisted that the funds were still there to be used and that council would be supportive of the renovation project if it goes ahead. Councillor John Lowe said that when the time comes for council’s support, the recreation committee will make a recommendation to council asking for funding, although a specific amount was not discussed.
Several other councillors, including David Blaney, Dianne Diehl, Brenda Dalton, Bob Fisher and Ray Chartrand, as well as Deputy-Mayor Joe Steffler, were also in attendance.
Fritz said that he found it “sickening” that Brussels and Grey were being left behind by Huron East Council while funding was being funnelled to areas like Seaforth.
As he spent two weekends canvassing the community for signatures for his petition, he said he only had two residents decline in the Brussels area. That, he said, shows that Brussels residents feel as though their council has let them down and he reminded council that the Brussels ward does matter.
He said that residents are ready to put their best foot forward and improve the community centre and so are local businesses and service clubs, which have already come out in support of the project. Now, he said, council just needed to do its part.
Over the course of the night, there were impassioned speeches from “imports” who moved to Brussels and felt that the community centre was their way into being part of the community. They called the centre an essential service and an important part of the village.
In terms of community pride, however, many associated with Blyth Brussels Minor Hockey expressed their embarrassment with the current state of the community centre and told council how much it hurt them to endure that feeling.
Michelle McNichol, who has been involved with the hockey association executive for a number of years, said the association has received e-mails from other organizations saying they wouldn’t come to the arena any longer because it wasn’t up to snuff. It was embarrassing as a hockey association to get those e-mails, she said.
Olivia McArter said she had endured the same feeling. Relentlessly, year after year, trying to get the centre on Kraft Hockeyville’s radar, McArter said she was sick of feeling embarrassed about the arena while at the same time she had so much community pride.
Doug McArter, Olivia’s father, also spoke, citing his Letter to the Editor in The Citizen several months ago that sparked much of the debate.
He said that the municipality needed to support improvements at the community centre and that, while expansion was a great idea, the arena also needed to be spruced up for the reasons his daughter had mentioned.
He felt it was only right that any proceeds from the sale of the school building should stay in the Brussels community after what had been lost when it closed.
Tim Prior and Merle Hoegy, both area business owners, said they saw an investment in the community as one in the village as well. As business owners, they felt it only made sense and that improvements to the community centre would benefit all of the residents.
Hoegy also said that a business plan is crucial for the centre going forward. The community could pour $1 million into the building and make it beautiful, but without dynamic programming that interests the community, it could sit empty, he said.
Lowe said that if the community was agreeable to moving ahead with improvements, the recreation committee would move forward with further public consultation. Not only that, but they would then strike a pair of committees to help the project move forward. There would be a renovation committee to oversee the actual project and there would be a fundraising committee to take on collecting the necessary funds to make the project happen.
Both committees, he said, would include members of the public, councillors and service club members.
As for next steps, Lowe said, it would be up to the recreation committee to fine-tune its concept and consult with the public as to what was actually wanted and needed at the centre before proceeding.
Once the topic of improvements was raised, community members had a laundry list of ideas that could be implemented if the funding was available. More room behind the benches, heaters in the stands and a heated viewing area, free of visual obstructions were also mentioned as possibilities to help modernize the centre.
Lowe said the community centre would be discussed at council’s Tuesday night meeting and then would continue to be a topic of discussion going forward. In regards to a timeline, he said he couldn’t be too specific. It would all depend on the public deciding on a concept, further consultation and fundraising to make the project a reality.