Youth sports clubs reeling after 300% spike in public school gym rental costs

Local basketball clubs are saying some of their programming is at risk of collapsing due to high HWDSB rental fees. The school board blames the provincial government for this rise in costs.

Several Hamilton youth basketball clubs fear they won't be able to run next year

Flamborough Fire Basketball is fearing for the future of its rep programming in the wake of high rental costs for public school gyms. (Flamborough Fire Basketball/Facebook)

Some local youth sports clubs say they are in "serious trouble" after a 300 per cent increase in the rental costs for public school gyms.

The vice president of Flamborough Fire Basketball, Paul Robertson says that their increased rental costs are so drastic, he fears the club won't run its rep programs next year. 

"You put all of this time and effort into something and [with] a decision that's totally out of your control and you don't have the proper notice on it is just devastating," he said. 

A gym that cost the club just over $18 per hour last year will now cost more than $75 per hour. It means a club bill of $20,000 this season compared to just over $3,000 last year.

But the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board says provincial government's cuts are to blame. 

Robertson says he can speak for several other local rep basketball clubs that will struggle to make up the extra money. 

"Clubs such as mine, Stoney Creek Storm, Dundas Dynamo and Ancaster Magic are in serious trouble moving forward," he said. "All the clubs have made efforts to keep the doors open this year, but none of us are sure what next season will bring." 

On Sept. 11, Flamborough Fire, a group which offers house league and rep programming for kids ages five to 19, received their approved permits from the HWDSB. 

The club uses the Waterdown District High School gym and paid $3,506.55 last season. 

This time around the bill for the same space came in at $20,373.74. 

Robertson said that amount, which would have covered bookings on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from September until May, was "shocking."

Provincial cuts

Dawn Danko, chair of finance and facilities with HWDSB, said that the board was unable to subsidize youth programming to the same degree because of cuts by Doug Ford's provincial government to its priority schools initiative fund. 

Normally, non-profit youth clubs are subsidized around 75 per cent. But because of the cuts, she said this amount has dropped. 

"Our rental rates actually have not increased significantly," she said. "The actual rate that the user pays has increased." 

Robertson said that out of five gym permits submitted for Flamborough Fire, the club will only be subsidized for one gym for a portion of the year. Until this season, the club has never had a year with zero subsidy. 

At the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board, rates have stayed steady.  HWCDSB chair Patrick Daly said the board's community use grant from the province — which is different than the priority schools initiative fund used by the public board — did not change this year. "That gave us the ability to continue the [rental] rates at the current level," he told CBC News.

Robertson said the rate to use the gym at St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Elementary School increased by around $300, but only because he added more time to his rental.

Danko explained that since the public board lost its funding for priority schools —a $850,000 cut — it's had to spread out the community-use money it had left to ensure programs, like before and after school care, kept running.

In the end, that means there's less money for other rental subsidies. 

Danko said that the board is working with groups to figure out what facility and amount of time best suits their needs.

She also noted that the board is planning on sending a letter to the Ministry of Education to alert them on how the lack in funding is affecting groups. 

"What we're trying to do is be proactive and say here is the challenge that's been created, can you re-look at this...for the next round of budgeting," she said. "[We] hope that they will reconsider." 

Families will pay more: Robertson

Robertson said that the cuts will mean an increase in fees for around 110 to 120 rep players. He called passing on the costs to the players and their families "disappointing," especially for a sport that he says is known to be accessible. 

"Basketball has generally been that sport where it's been a little more affordable, right? You just need a basketball and a hoop," he said.   

Players are already paying about $850 a year. The club is no longer looking to book the Waterdown District High School gym — if it did, it would have meant around $500 more per player. Instead, it managed to find space at other Catholic schools, knocking the increase in fees to an estimated $100 - $150. 

Danko said that the board has talked about using up to $100,000 from its rental reserve fund, which is normally used for facility upkeep, to "help offset the significant change in costs for youth not-for-profit groups for this year." 

But Robertson said that won't be enough. He fears that Flamborough Fire and Stoney Creek Storm won't be able to operate some their programming next year. 

Some of this has to do with the need for a larger high school gym for their high performance players. Robertson said that regulations stipulate the size of the court needed and that it just isn't possible to play the same on a smaller court. 

Robertson said he was speaking on behalf of the other clubs because their executive members are school board employees who aren't comfortable speaking out on the issue.

The HWDSB raised its rental fees for gyms in 2016, which it attributed to a change in how the fees are charged. While the board previously charged a set fee, it moved to a per hour rate to prevent bigger groups from blocking off periods of time. 


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