With much-needed upgrades stalled for years, people in northwest Winnipeg losing hope for community centre
Sites in The Maples, Tyndall Park left waiting on government funding to make plans a reality, volunteers say
Keerat Bhullar stopped playing basketball years ago. But before pandemic restrictions banned indoor sports in Manitoba, the 20-year-old would still hit the court at the Maples Community Centre to train kids from the neighbourhood three times a week.
That was part of a basketball program called Superior Hoops, which has grown to a roster of more than 100 kids, ages seven to 17, since it started last summer, Bhullar said.
It gives players a chance to train at a high level, but at a cost of no more than $160 a month, making it more affordable than some more established basketball programs, which can cost hundreds of dollars, he said.
"There's a lot of kids with a lot of talent, and it can be a huge burden on parents to pay that much," said Bhullar, who played competitively until he graduated from high school.
What began as a way for him and his friend, 21-year-old Tiernan Marshall, to make the sport they love more accessible to families in their neighbourhood has become much more.
When kids show up, they feel comfortable joking around and even sharing when something's wrong, he said.
"I've never been able to do that with any of my coaches," Bhullar said. "I wouldn't give it up for anything."
Over the years, more groups have started to call the Adsum Drive community centre home, from Bhullar's basketball camp to seniors' groups to taekwondo classes, said Derek Dabee, the centre's president.
But improvements to the nearly 50-year-old space in Winnipeg have been stalled for years, leaving people in the area wondering if they'll ever happen.
And the extra space is sorely needed in northwest Winnipeg — which is among the areas of the city with the least recreation space available for each resident.
The city's most recent long-term recreation plan estimated that the district that includes that part of the city (along with a few other neighbourhoods) would reach a space-to-population ratio of 1.59 square feet per person by 2025.
A CBC analysis based on more recent census data found that number is likely closer to 1.23.
That's well below the target of 1.88 set out in Plan 2025, a 2009 City of Winnipeg plan aimed at guiding the future of recreation in the city.
Blueprints drawn, but no action
In 2015, architects drew up blueprints for an addition to the Maples Community Centre, which would attach to the nearby arena and include eight basketball courts — a big step up from the single gym it has right now, which isn't regulation size.
A year later, the community centre's board was working with government to get funding. But Dabee said those plans were put on hold when the Progressive Conservative government came to power in 2016 — and they've been shelved ever since.
"To put it politely, when the [Progressive Conservatives] came to power, every project similarly was on hold," he said.
A spokesperson said the province is not aware of any specific funding requests for the Maples Community Centre. The government gives the City of Winnipeg "significant annual funding supports" for recreation and other projects, which the city then gets to decide how to use, the spokesperson said.
Meanwhile, a city spokesperson said there is no city council-approved funding for an expansion of the community centre.
Old Kildonan city councillor Devi Sharma said the current plan is "very ambitious" and city staff have advised community members to make changes before they can recommend it to council. Sharma said she will be working with the board to move plans forward.
In another neighbourhood nearby, a similar story is unfolding.
It's been years since a city feasibility study highlighted a need for an addition at the Tyndall Park Community Centre on King Edward Street.
But so far, the plan to fix up the nearly 30-year-old space is still sitting on a shelf, too.
"We get asked all the time what's happening with the plans. And we never really have an answer," said centre president Jennifer Ferguson.
"It's frustrating for us, as we see all these great things happening in other areas of the city."
A city spokesperson said there's no money approved for that project, either — but it will be considered in future budgets, and a decision will depend on whether funding is available from other levels of government.
Point Douglas city councillor Vivian Santos said funding has been delayed for this project due to the pandemic. Santos says she's working with the board to apply for federal grants, and that she'd like to see some of the money from Winnipeg's police budget allocated to projects like the Tyndall Park community centre expansion.
More space needed
As the city starts work on the next chapter of its recreation services in Plan 2045, some of the issues identified in Plan 2025 persist.
That includes a need for more recreation space in northwest Winnipeg.
And while the area has seen some upgrades to recreation facilities, including a renovated indoor pool in The Maples, and new soccer and arena facilities in Garden City, its space per resident hasn't changed much.
Neighbourhoods in the area are expanding, but its community spaces generally aren't — and plans for upgrades are left untouched. Some community centre volunteers say they're losing hope.
"I feel somewhat leery that after all these years [it still hasn't happened]," Dabee said of the plans for a new centre in The Maples.
"We promised the community that we would have had this built. It's sort of very deflating that after five years, we still don't have it."
This story is part of CBC Manitoba's On the Move community journalism project, which invites residents to shine a light on the stories we should tell about their communities. The first communities we're featuring are three Winnipeg suburbs: northwest Winnipeg, Bridgwater Forest and Valley Gardens.
With files from Sam Samson
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