|Guelph Mercury photo of Victoria Rec Centre's construction in 1975.|
March Break programs at the Victoria Road Recreation Centre last week may be the last time for many Guelphites to enjoy the facilities there before the Centre is closed for one year of renovations and improvements. For one group of citizens though, they've already enjoyed the access to the Rec Centre's weight room and sauna for the last time, and we mean ever because when the Victoria Road Recreation Centre re-opens next spring, it will no longer have a weight room or sauna.
City council approved the renovation plans for the Rec Centre last fall, the first major renovation for the facility since it first opened in 1975. "The Victoria Road Recreation Centre renovation project is more than a makeover. It is a necessary investment that will move the facility from an aging and outdated recreation centre to an updated, more inclusive and accessible community centre," said Kristene Scott, general manager of Parks and Recreation, in a press release last fall. "Overall, this project will improve the experience for patrons and employees."
For patrons that like the Centre's weight room and sauna though, that experience is now non-existent.
"Currently, the fitness room appears to me to be used primarily by seniors like my mother, and if it closes, they will have to go to the West End [Rec] Centre on the opposite side of town," said Cynthia Fobert, a concerned citizen in an email. "They would be unlikely to join at the local GoodLife. Not only is that private club intimidating to the elderly, it costs $36/month for the gym alone."
The GoodLife Fitnesss on Eramosa is one of the two gyms closest to the Victoria Rec Centre, the other is the Anytime Fitness on Speedvale. While both gym chains promote inclusivity, and a safe space for all ages and genders, it's been noted that many seniors still feel intimidated by that experience. “Older people often feel intimidated working out among younger people. Older adults don’t want to be the only one in the class,” said Edna Levitt in a Toronto Star article. Levitt owns Fifty Plus Fitness, a gym in Toronto that caters to a seniors specific clientele.
More and more medical evidence is showing that active living is the key to vitality and continued good health for seniors as they get older, hence the important of access to fitness facilities. A study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information showed that weight training reduces the loss of muscle mass and the resulting loss of motor function. Meanwhile, Dr. Teresa Liu-Ambrose, Canada Research Chair and the Director of the Ageing, Mobility and Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory at UBC in Vancouver, reported in a study that seniors that lifted weights twice a week performed better on cognitive tests than those that lifted weights once a week or merely did toning and stretching exercises. So its worthwhile to make a comfortable place for seniors to get that highly productive workout.
Price, of course, is also a factor. The City website lists the annual cost of seniors Active Living Pass as $367.46 plus tax, or $30.62 per month. No prices are posted on the Anytime or GoodLife website, but Anytime notes that monthly membership can be obtained for less than the price of an average monthly cell phone plan, which in Canada right now is between $60 and $80. On top of the price difference, Active Living Pass holders also had "unsupervised use of the exercise room, weight equipment, cardio machines, use of the pool during our fitness swims and daytime leisure swims as well as the sauna when the pools are open." Neither AnyTime or Good Life have a pool, which would mean an additional cost to seniors to access the Victor Davis pool back at the Rec Centre.
"I use the gym three times a week and I also swim three times a week," added Fobert. "The recreation staff seem to be suggesting that I could take fitness classes instead. At $5/class, that would be an additional $60/month, at times convenient to them. No thanks."
According to staff, the decision to take out the fitness rooms and sauna was not taken lightly, but rather it was a matter of lack of demand about those rooms, and the pressing demand to bring the Rec Centre up to modern code. "The decision to remove the fitness room and sauna were based on the cost to replace the equipment, the current overall usage, and, space required to meet the legislative requirements for accessibility improvements," wrote Heather Flaherty, Manager Recreation Services in an email provided to me.
"Staff will be reviewing the Active Living Passes during this closure and will determine how passes can be incorporated in to the new facility," she added.
So what's going on with the Victoria Rec Centre's pool level? The plans presented to council, and approved late last year, will see the north side of the pool completely re-arranged as washrooms and change rooms are expanded, and new facilities are created. As Flaherty explained it to me, the ramps that allow access to the centre's various levels are out of date and their slopes are too steep to meet current accessibility standards. Bring accessibility up to code in the centre required a major renovation of the pool level to accommodate it. On top of that, the centre is expanding and updating both the mens and womens change rooms while adding a gender neutral washroom and a family change room. There will also be a new office space for the aquatic staff.
But it's not just a matter of space. "We have made decisions based on a number of factors, including usage and cost for the replacement and maintenance of equipment," wrote Scott in another email provided to me.
Basically, the equipment is old, perhaps unsafe, and it would cost too much to replace or fix them given the present rate of usage, which, the city admits, is anecdotal. Users with Active Living Passes don't "sign in" or use another form of "log in" when they arrive at the centre, they merely present their pass to the staff member on the reception desk. On top of that, the pass allows access to all centre facilities, so it's unknown if people are just using their passes to access the pool, the fitness equipment or both, nor is it known how often they access each service.
Cynthia Forbert will be presenting a petition to city council on Monday night to push for the preservation of the fitness room and sauna with nearly 250 signatures upon it. Flaherty told me that while she recognizes the effort, and appreciates it, but the plans for the Rec Centre renovation are set and if a fitness centre were to return to the Rec Centre, it will not be in its present form.
"Active Living programs will be hosted in the new program space and staff are excited to garner feedback from the community on the types of programs that they would like to see offered," Flaherty said in an email.
"The newly designed community rooms will most definitely be programmed with fitness/active living classes," added Scott. "Through the activation of our communications plan and pending community engagement, staff will put together a plan with a multitude of recreational programs that the current facility has not been able to accommodate."
In the meantime, construction is set to begin on April 4. The entire Victoria Road Recreation Centre will be shut down through to September 15 when the ice pad will re-open. The complete renovation will be completed by sometime next spring with a full re-opening to take place sometime in June 2017. To learn if your programs are activities are affected by the renovations, click here to go to the Parks and Recreation site at the City of Guelph, or download the Community Guide.