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Underground Gym closing its doors (3 photos)

Founder Peter Panetta says he hopes to carry on, but a burst water pipe discovered on Friday, combined with rat and structural issues, means the Simpson Street facility isn't safe for the youth it serves.

THUNDER BAY – An emotional Peter Panetta says on second thought – with a burst pipe allowing water to fill the basement, the Underground Gym will have to close its Simpson Street location.

By no means does it mean an end to the organization, but it certainly closes a 16-year chapter in the organization’s history.

Panetta said the pipe, which would not allow inspectors to give the OK to turn the electricity back on in the building, was the final straw.

Days after the facility averted disaster when a fire tore through two adjacent buildings, Panetta said the water, combined with a rat problem, a sagging floor and a roof he fears could collapse at any time, led him to the conclusion to close the doors.

Just a day earlier, Panetta expressed optimism he could keep the Underground Gym open at the location.

“I started realistically looking at the situation and how bad it is, with the roof sinking, quite possibly falling on the kids anytime soon,” Panetta said on Friday afternoon. “The floor is sinking, the rat problem – on and on and on and on.

“I made the decision that it’s best for the kids to shut the gym down now.”

He’s holding out hope it doesn’t mean the end of the Underground Gym altogether.

For now, he plans to take the children on outings swimming, skating, or skiing, using the gym’s bus. He added Thunder Bay Public Library has reached out to offer up occasional space to hold activities and said he’s also got good working relationships with local boxing clubs, who can probably help train his boxers.

Ideally, he’d love to raze the building and construct a new one at the current location. Another option is purchasing a location he’s found, which is not ideal, but would suffice, with a price tag of about $85,000.

The biggest obstacle is money.

The Underground Gym has always run on a shoestring budget and Panetta isn’t sure where the funds might come from. He’s not averse to someone setting up a GoFund Me page to help raise some of the funds.

“If somebody wants to help us out, that would be great,” Panetta said.

Regardless, it’s not the end of the Underground Gym – not by a long shot, Panetta said.

“It isn’t the end. It’s just goes in a different format now. I’ve got a bus. I’m going to be picking up the children, feeding them with sandwiches and juice and we’ll just go on outings every day. It’s not the same. A facility like this is needed. There’s no doubt about that. But I’m not giving up on the children,” Panetta said.

“I’m going to keep taking care of them.”

UPDATE: A GoFundMe page has been set up to help find the Underground Gym a new home.

Leith Dunick

About the Author: Leith Dunick

A proud Nova Scotian who has called Thunder Bay home since 2002, Leith is Dougall Media's director of news, but still likes to tell your stories too. Wants his Expos back and to see Neil Young at least one more time. Twitter: @LeithDunick
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