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Community centres to choose governance models

Review was conducted to address declining volunteer participation and reduce risk to volunteer associations and the city.
Thunder Bay City Hall

THUNDER BAY – Most of the city’s community centres will have until the end of next month to choose how they will function in the future.

A year-long review of governance of the city’s community centres will allow the current volunteer associations to either operate as an incorporated board, or to act as an advisory committee with the city taking over management of the facility.

The results of the review, which proposes the two governance models, on Monday night were presented to Thunder Bay city council and subsequently approved in principle.

Paul Burke, the city’s sports and community development supervisor, said the review was conducted as the amount of volunteer hours dedicated to the centres has dropped, with statistics showing a steep decline from 90,000 hours per year in 1996 to 30,000 hours in 2017.

“The number of volunteer hours has gone significantly down and is a trend not just in Thunder Bay, but all across Canada and North America,” Burke said.

The city owns eight of the 10 community centres, with Vale Community Centre owned by the Thunder Bay District Social Services Administration Board and leased to the city while the North McIntyre Recreation Centre Inc. owns its building and property.

The city operates Vale and Jumbo Gardens Community Centre and only four of the remaining eight facilities that are currently board-operated have been legally incorporated.

The option to be board-operated would require incorporation and an operating agreement with the city, as well as the ability to demonstrate the long-term sustainability of their operation.

“The preliminary indications from the centres is that most of them do want to be board-operated,” Burke said. “It doesn’t look like at this point in time that we’re talking about all of the centres coming on as advisory committee, and quite frankly we wouldn’t have the capacity for that.”

There are no formal agreements currently between the city and volunteer boards, which administration cautioned could lead to potential for fraud and liability and risk to the volunteer associations and the city.

Coun. Andrew Foulds was concerned that the contributions made by volunteers running the centres could be diminished.

“Those individuals who participate in the board at these community centres feel like they’re part of something,” Foulds said. “There’s a sense of the city coming in and taking over and perhaps not valuing the boards.”

Burke said the city will work with the volunteers at each community centre after they decide on their governance model.

Coun. Rebecca Johnson questioned whether the review considered if the city should reduce the number of community centres.

“At this time, we are not reviewing nor are we considering a reduction in the community centres as advice to (council),” city manager Norm Gale responded.

The existing boards have a deadline of June 28 to notify the city of their intention.

Council will decide on the long-term direction for the community centres in September, when administration is expected to report back with an implementation plan.

Also on Monday, council voted to use $136,000 in a reserve fund to support older adult programming. That money had previously been collected between 2003 and 2008 for a new south side 55 Plus facility, though the project was halted in 2014 when the decision was made to operate programming out of the existing West Arthur Community Centre.

Matt Vis

About the Author: Matt Vis

Born and raised in Thunder Bay, Matt is honoured to tell the stories of his hometown.
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