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Letter: Harry Jerome rec centre closure an unhealthy decision for North Vancouver

Old facility should be kept open while new one being built
Harry Jerome Rec Sign 6
The old Harry Jerome rec centre will close at the end of 2021. Users want to know where they can go while a replacement centre is being built.

Dear Editor:

About six years ago I ran into a friend in the lobby of Harry Jerome. He was busy connecting strings to small nails hammered into a display board. It was all about the Harry Jerome rebuild: North Vancouver Recreation Commission came up with yet another way of finding out what its patrons wanted. 

I advised Shahab to stop wasting his time: decisions would be made for reasons other than what the swimmers, skaters, gymnasts, program goers, fitness members wanted.

And then the announcement: not just a 50-metre pool, but a curling rink were slated to come our way. This was terrific news, but the real prize for me was Harry Jerome would stay open until the rebuild was complete. I had to eat my words. At the same time, I found it refreshing and inspiring to realize we had a mayor and council who were putting people first, over developers.

This all took a dramatic turn when our new mayor took office. The first to go were the 50-metre pool and curling rink: decisions that took more than 10 years of painstaking information-gathering, meetings, proposals, not to mention money, to make. Following this came the second decision, to close Harry Jerome at the end of the year

Mayor Linda Buchanan chose a cash advance over the health and well-being of not only Harry Jerome patrons, but every person attending a rec centre on the North Shore. 

Some of the Harry Jerome patrons will move on to other rec facilities, and you can bet the regulars at these centres will not be happy. Existing facilities are already busy, bursting at times.

Layered on top of this is the reality that in the past 20 years our population in North Vancouver has grown from 84,412 to 138,833 people, an increase of 39.2 per cent. At a time when we should be expanding our recreational opportunities, Mayor Buchanan has chosen to cut them back, and, in so doing, opened the door to at least 1,000 more units of housing, plus commercial property set to take up most of the entire block Harry Jerome currently sits on.

Just where are all the displaced Harry Jerome patrons supposed to go?

Harry Jerome offers 1,570 programs that bring in 272,000 visits per year. Some of these patrons are seniors, persons with disabilities, or teenagers too young to drive a car: plain and simple, they are not able to go anywhere else. Their lifeline to social and recreational activities [will be] severed, jeopardizing both their physical and mental well-being. 

There is also a significant group of people who, because of COVID-19 related reasons, are now working from home. These people rely on recreation centres like Harry Jerome for fitness as well as social interaction. They go there to share stories, make plans, talk over problems, and share a good laugh. 

We also have a huge group of people, mostly children and teenagers, who are involved in organized sports: Chena Swim Club, North Vancouver Minor Hockey, North Shore Minor Lacrosse, Flicka Gymnastics, for starters, who [will soon be] left without a facility to practise or hold their games in.

And then there’s people like me who go to Harry Jerome to maintain or improve our level of fitness. I also go because over the years I’ve developed several friendships with the people I swim with. One of these is with our swim instructor, who has helped me, as well as thousands of others, learn how to swim and improve our strokes; somehow making a ridiculously repetitive sport, fun.

I know most of these friendships I have will be lost if Harry Jerome closes. Each of us will go our own way, and that will be the end of it. On an even sadder note, there is also the disquieting notion for some of us as to whether we’ll even be physically able to attend a recreation centre in four years, or even more disturbing, alive at all. 

As one person commented in an article about closing Harry Jerome before the rebuild: “Would you close a hospital while you build another? Rec centres are essential for public health.” 

I agree 100 per cent. Recreation centres are the hub of community well-being. The big question now is: what’s next?

People who are directly or indirectly impacted by the early closure of Harry Jerome, or know of someone who is, have a way of voicing their disapproval. There is an online petition you can access through calling on the City of North Vancouver to keep Harry Jerome open. I urge you to sign. As well, please write or make a phone call to your council members, including the mayor. Let’s see if we can collectively make a difference.

Mary Louie
North Vancouver

Editor’s note: The City of North Vancouver's communications department has provided the following email response: 

"The new Harry Jerome Community Recreation Centre embraces the City of North Vancouver’s vision of A Healthy City for All, creating a welcoming, vibrant, social heart of the community,' it reads. "Guided by our Community Recreation Strategy, this new centre is focused on physical and mental health, wellness, inclusion and diversity. The city’s goal is to create a barrier-free, accessible space for everyone in the community to enjoy.

"After serving the community of North Vancouver for more than 55 years, the existing Harry Jerome Community Recreation Centre, built in 1966, has reached the end of its useful life and will close at the end of this year (Dec. 31).

"The new HJCRC is on track to start construction mid-2022, with project completion anticipated for 2025. This will allow for the development of the Neighbourhood Lands or Lonsdale Square; a multi-phase project which will provide a variety of housing types, including leasehold condo, below-market/market rental, non-profit housing and seniors assisted living.

As the replacement of the community recreation facility is the largest project the city has undertaken, leasing the land where the existing recreation centre is located also referred to as the Neighbourhood Lands or Lonsdale Square provides a way to finance the new HJCRC without impacting the city’s budget. This allows the city to finance the new HJCRC up-front, mitigating the financial risk associated with such a large project.

We are actively working with North Vancouver Recreation and Culture Commission on an interim service plan to provide alternative access to recreational activities, cultural programs and services during this transition. For more information and project updates, visit the city's HJCRC webpage.

The emailed response also includes the following statement from City of North Vancouver Mayor Linda Buchanan:

“A new and improved Harry Jerome Community Rec Centre is something we as city residents have wanted for a long time. A lot of work has gone on to bring us to this point, and I understand that people have concerns about what this will mean for them. That’s why the city and the North Vancouver Recreation and Culture Commission are working on an interim service plan that will ensure the rec needs of people are met as we deliver this new facility. This project is moving forward and will be a wonderful addition to our community recreation infrastructure and programming once completed.” 

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