West Hillhurst Community Centre in need of renovations to continue operating

It’s early Saturday morning. The lobby is packed with people and it is only 9 a.m.

The hockey players between the ages of four to six, also known as “squirts,” leave and the pre-Canskate class members bustle around hallways and dressing rooms getting ready to hit the ice.

In other parts of the building, adults are engaging in indoor tennis. CPR, first aid, and other courses that are taking place upstairs.

From this busy scene, it’s hard to imagine the facility, which was founded in 1948, is fighting for its life.

This is a typical Saturday for the West Hillhurst Community Centre. Housing more than 32 programs for all ages, this particular facility receives more than 50,000 visitors per year and serves six surrounding communities, says Christa Hill— general manager and program director of the centre.But what happens when a well-loved facility requires major renovations and restorations and the money isn’t there?

“We’re a year into a recovery and restoration plan,” says Hill. “Coming into this project, the facility itself had approximately $90,000 in debt on top of the $7 million in restorations that needed to be done immediately.” Almost everything in the current building is coming to the end of its lifecycle. Worn flooring that has seen its share of foot traffic needs replacing. On days with melting snow or heavy rain, buckets catch the drips of water that leak from the weather-worn roof.

Arriving at work one day, Hill found the maintenance employees in a panic because the ice plant went down. The entire ice surface was nearly lost to melting. Staff worked tirelessly to get the plant up and running again. Thankfully, it was revived and skating classes resumed as normal at 4:00 that afternoon, with no one being the wiser. Had the ice been lost, the entire outcome for the 2011-2012 season at West Hillhurst could have been dramatically altered.

Jennifer Giembycz ,9, is one of many youngsters that regularly use this facility.
Photo by: Donella Swan

Some would ask why bother to put in all that effort to upgrade an aging building, and what makes this particular location so special.

“There is so much going on in this facility and it’s nice to interact with other community members and parents,” says Marie Wildenborg, a former board member of the West Hillhurst Community Association.

Without this facility, Wildenborg’s two daughters would neither figure skate during the winter or attend activities such as skipping class and drama. The loss of drop-in ladies’ shinny during the week would negatively impact her own life.

Needed restoration and renovations include everything from a new roof to an updated ice plant. These upgrades are the only way to ensure the facility is there for the enjoyment of generations to come.

“Without [the facility] being here, it would be a huge disappointment to the area” says Hill.

Besides the recreational programs and activities taking place at West Hillhurst, there is a social aspect that cannot be overlooked. The facility houses clubs such as the Go Getters 50+ Social Club for seniors. Through such clubs a sense of volunteerism and community is created, Hill says.

Walking into the facility in the middle of the week, community members still find it buzzing with activity. The “Go Getters” enjoy a few rounds of bingo in rental space just off the gymnasium. Gym members make good use of workout equipment in their own peaceful part of the building. Men come piling off the ice from lunch hour hockey. Squash players play on the two courts – which Hill describes as the facility’s “best kept secret”.

The demand for its services prompts people like Hill to keep facilities like West Hillhurst operating.West Hillhurst’s arena nearly suffered a catastrophic melt after its ice processing plant failed.
Photo by: Donella Swan

Wildenborg says before joining the association’s executive board, she assumed that money flowed into community centres like these from the City of Calgary. After sitting on the board for four consecutive years, she learned that is not how it works.

Wildenborg explains that community centres such as West Hillhurst rely heavily on government grants and income from program registration. She mentions that unlike newer communities where a mandatory portion of property taxes helps fund the community centre, West Hillhurst does not benefit from the program because it serves an older, inner-city community. Without this tax base, she says it is difficult to raise necessary funds for things such as restoration and renovations.

West Hillhurst offers an arena, gymnasium, racquet court, dance studio, workout facility, playground, outdoor pool for use during the summertime and provides a great sense of community. It is not surprising that there are administrators, community members, and volunteers striving to keep the facility thriving.

“I don’t think [we’ve even] tapped into the full potential of this building” says Wildenborg.

This potential, Wildenborg says, is due to the increasing amount of interest for more summer programing at the centre, which traditionally represents a slower time for the centre. Hill says she envisions the West Hillhurst facility to be a thriving recreational centre, full of programs and opportunities for the community and surrounding areas, that contributes to the health and welfare of its users.

dswan@cjournal.ca