Feeling the weight of budget cuts

Jamie Bennett
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STEPHENVILLE  Mike Alexander has been using the West Coast Training Centre in Stephenville since he was a teenager.

With the Stephenville facility’s sudden closure, he and many longtime users of the centre are shocked at the loss of a building which has been a recreational and social hub of the Bay St. George region for decades. Now 44, Alexander coaches a variety of sports at the centre, including badminton and basketball. He works in the building as regional co-ordinator for the Aboriginal Sport and Recreation Circle, runs a summer program, plays badminton and runs an active start program which teaches fundamental movements to 27 pre-school children in the mornings.

He said many professionals and residents from other countries count on the centre while integrating themselves into the community.

“A lot of people make the misunderstanding that this is just a gym,” Alexander said. “They don’t understand the implications to the social and mental well being of the entire community.”

Officials from the Department of Tourism, Recreation and Culture informed staff of the unexpected closure in person Tuesday. A sign was posted informing users to remove their belongings from lockers before the doors are locked for good tonight.

The move was part of widespread cuts made to the service sector in the 2013 provincial budget.

Home to a variety of programs such as martial arts disciplines, Zumba, pre-school, badminton, squash and the Special Olympics, the centre has been the training ground for a number of local athletes who have gone on to compete at the provincial and national level.

Alexander is concerned doctors and other professionals might opt to move to a community with a similar facility and programs.

“If they are less content, there is always the opportunity to go to a place where there is more to offer,” he said. “Even if you never set foot in this building ... you don’t want to lose those professionals. This is more than just a place for people to come and sweat a little bit.”

At least three employees could lose their jobs as a result of the closure of the government-subsidized facility.

He said he’s most disappointed at the silence of local MHA’s on the issue and intends to let his voice be heard in a peaceful, measured manner at a rally outside the centre at noon today.

“We want to communicate clearly what this place means to the community,” he said. “We want to make sure they understand we are very serious and we want to maintain this facility.

“Give us a chance ... 48 hours and the doors are locked? Give me a break.”

Wayne Simon learned of the closure after arriving at the centre Tuesday for his regular Tae Kwon Do class.

A 7th degree blackbelt, he has been training at the centre since 1974 and said the government’s decision was made too hastily.

“We deserve more respect from government than was shown,” Simon said. “If the place was losing money, why didn’t the government up the fees? This should have been told to the groups back in September so we know what’s going on.”

Programs have typically run from September to May, so Simon admits the sudden news has left user groups in a difficult spot.

Several events are planned to raise money for cancer research in April and the centre was set to host the Tae Kwon Do provincial championships in the coming months.

He’s particularly concerned about a team from Labrador which has already booked airfare and lodgings for the event.

“If they cancel, somebody is going to have to pay the cancellation fee of course,” he said.

Alexander has started a Facebook page to raise awareness of the issue. Since launching the site Tuesday evening, the group has swollen to include over 800 members.

Simon, for one, is hoping something can be salvaged if the rally manages to drum up enough support.

“I hope it doesn’t fall on deaf ears but you never know,” he said.

jbennett@thewesternstar.com

Twitter: WS_JamieBennett

Organizations: Aboriginal Sport, Department of Tourism, Special Olympics

Geographic location: Stephenville

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Recent comments

  • Ada
    March 28, 2013 - 22:15

    I've been thinking of calling the RCMP to file a missing persons report on the missing MHA's we have and YET AGAIN they are nowhere to be seen, what a couple of useless knobs we have to look after any important issues in their district.Just remember when election time comes where to put them -- right down the toilet.. I think they have no voices left or have been royally muzzled by the leader-She can talk more BS than Smallwood ever did.. Shes gone byes she gone.. what the liberals couldn't slaughter the PC's have tried their best

  • Wade Gabriel
    March 28, 2013 - 15:43

    I have stated in various forums that I have never seen a minister deliver so little to their riding as does Joan Burke. This is yet another example of non delivery. Look at the most important issues locally like the airport and White’s Road, to name just two of many. Where is Joan Burke? How she gets voter support amazes me.

  • Mike Alexander
    March 28, 2013 - 12:26

    There is an error in the above article. I did not start the face book page to drum up support for saving the West Coast Training Center. I support it, encourage people to join, and have been very vocal on it - but I cannot take credit for that. I believe it was Marlene Wells who deserves that credit. Mike Alexander

  • Tony
    March 28, 2013 - 12:16

    ED, ANSTEY, I have been saying the same thing. MB with 57 MLA's in a province with 1,286,000 people, and nearly 300,000 sq km larger in area. Don't have to be a mathematician to see that NL should have no more than 22 MHA's representing such a small population.

  • Maureen
    March 28, 2013 - 11:17

    Wheres Tony and Joan ?? isn't it funny how the only people who stick up for this town are the ones who live here, and not the ones who get paid the bigs bucks to do so. Its a sad day to see that gym closing up, and its even sadder to know that our elected MHA's certainly DO NOT have this towns BEST interest at heart.

    • Jack
      March 28, 2013 - 13:20

      Shea and Cornect are probably running away as they are gutless cowards not willing to be a part of this solution.

  • Tony Young
    March 28, 2013 - 10:13

    How can the people not speak out against this announcement? This is terrible. Is anyone in the region seriously surprised that the two local MHA's are silent? Enough is enough.

  • interesting enough
    March 28, 2013 - 08:55

    One of the highest obesity rates in the country, and NL is closing down physical activity and recreation hubs where the next best thing is dozens of KM's away. Rob Peter (the rec centres) and pay Paul (the long term health costs). Way to go. Way to think. Way to shoot yourself and everyone else in the foot.

  • Ed. Anstey
    March 28, 2013 - 07:31

    we are still wasting money on 48 MHAs with all their staff and perks such as travel, meals and gold plated pensions. our elected MHAs are blindly following the party line and cutting much needed social programs just so they can enrich themselves and their friends. just for the record we do not need more than 24 MHAs. have a nice day. P.S. i have not heard of any political party in nfld. say they would cut the number of MHAs to a sensible number.

  • Bernice
    March 28, 2013 - 06:53

    What a sad day! My brother who had Downs Syndrome spent almost 40 years making use of the gym and being cared for both by the staff and the many users of the gym facilities. At his recent funeral and wake it was tremendous to see the outpouring of love and compassion from the many people who knew him through his association with the gym. Mike Alexander is right when he says this facility was more than a gym. It was an integral part of the social and cultural fabric of the community.