Hamilton

Gym rental rates skyrocket in some Hamilton schools

Rental fee hikes at some Hamilton public school gyms have some community and sporting groups panicking over thousands of dollars in unexpected expenses.

1 group saw bill rise from $231.65 to around $12K

The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board has changed its fee structure for renting gym space, which has made life difficult for teams like the Stoney Creek Storm. (Stoney Creek Storm/Instagram)

Rental fee hikes at some Hamilton public school gyms have some community and sporting groups panicking over thousands of dollars in unexpected expenses.

The public school board says as dollars get tighter, it had to change its rates in the name of fairness and equity — but some say this will force groups to scale down what they can offer, or price some families out of their activities altogether.

Dan Lane is one of those people. He's the president of the Stoney Creek Storm Basketball Club, which has a house league group of six to 10-year-olds, as well as a rep team for nine to 13-year-olds.

Last year, Lane Booked 192 hours of local gym time from September to April. After subsidies, it cost $231.65.

We do recognize it does have some challenges for some groups … but we do think it's the right thing to do.- Todd White, public school board chair

This year, he tried to book the same amount of time with the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board, and it would have cost him about $12,000, he says.

Documents Lane provided that show a pending booking application for this year show he would owe $3,350.45 — but that only covers 40 hours of gym time on weekends from September to December, he says.

"My jaw just hit the floor," Lane said, after he saw how much his club would be expected to pay this year. "Hydro One doesn't even go up this much.

"I could see a gradual increase, but this is going to close opportunities for kids."

Previous model just didn't work, school board says

Organizations knew a price hike was coming. The change happened because the HWDSB changed its rental rates from a flat fee based on the total number of hours used to an hourly rate, regardless of the number of hours used, said spokesperson Jackie Penman.

"We found that our previous model caused inequity between users," Penman said.

School board chair Todd White told CBC News that in previous years, some organizations would just book huge chunks of time in case they needed it, making the actual dollar per hour rate for the space mere pennies.

That led to gyms that were supposedly booked sitting empty. "When the time was that inexpensive, it wasn't being used," White said.

"We do believe in subsidizing groups … but not at the expense of our own schools," he said.

According to the documents Lane provided, the biggest price hike came from paying a caretaker at time and a half to come in, unlock the gym doors and oversee the space.

At a ten-hour rate of $39, that's costing him $390 each Saturday, he says. Last year, subsidy covered almost the entirety of the caretaking fees.

"I freely admit we had a fantastic deal with the government subsidy," he said. "But I also know this will price out two or three families that have played for me in the last few years."

Lane said he is waiting for the Catholic School Board's fees to be announced on Sept. 1 to see if that will be a viable option for his teams.

Subsidy amount falling

The school board has had to cut back the amount it was paying out in subsidies. In the past, the province paid out $1.5 million in subsidies for organizations, with the school board paying out another $1.5 million.

This year the provincial contribution stays the same, but the school board only plans to subsidize about $500,000.

The school board will still subsidize caretaking if the group is booking in a "priority school," which includes 25 schools, mostly in the lower city and east end.

Groups also have the option of booking weeknights in school gyms, where caretaking is covered until 9 p.m.

"[Caretaking] is something we paid for in the past, but that's taking dollars out the classroom," White said. "So we had to make the tough decision as to where those dollars would be best spent, and our decision is that's in the classroom.

"We do recognize it does have some challenges for some groups … but we do think it's the right thing to do."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Adam Carter

Reporter

Adam Carter is a Newfoundlander who now calls Toronto home. He enjoys a good story and playing loud music. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamCarterCBC or drop him an email at adam.carter@cbc.ca.

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