Park Ex groups search for new homes as 'essential' hub William Hingston Centre closes for major repairs
Centre serving everyone from toddlers to seniors is set to shut down next spring
William Hingston Centre in Parc-Extension is a community one-stop-shop where residents can drop their kids off at daycare, take French language classes, get support for housing issues and pick up a book from the library — and more.
But that won't be the case for much longer.
The community organizations operating out of the centre will have to move next spring, as the Centre de services scolaire de Montréal (CSSDM) — which owns the whole building — does major repair work on it.
The service centre said in a statement that the work could take several years to complete and would not say if organizations could return after the work is done.
Now, community groups say the neighbourhood will lose a desperately needed central hub, which is especially important in a part of Montreal where many newcomers are still learning to navigate the system, according to the community workers who live and work in the area.
"There will be no central community space for the neighbourhood once the William Hingston Center closes its doors," said Amy Darwish, a community organizer with Comité d'action de Parc-Extension.
She worries the loss of the centre "is going to contribute to everybody's precarity in the years to come."
"We're a neighbourhood that is facing an enormous amount of struggles relating to gentrification, the impact of COVID-19, people living with precarious immigration status and often in low wage, precarious jobs," said Darwish.
"It's absolutely essential that Parc-Extension has a central gathering space," she said.
Rose Ndjel, who runs Afrique au Féminin, a group serving immigrant women, says she's concerned that vulnerable people will not be able to find services if organizations are scattered across the neighbourhood.
"In winter we have –20, and you tell a woman that you have to go on Bloomfield and put your child into daycare, and you have to come back to Parc Jarry and come for the French class after? They will just be isolated," said Ndjel.
Henri Robert Durandisse, who runs Le Centre haïtien d'animation et d'intervention sociales (CHAIS), says while he understands the need for major repairs in the building, there should be a plan to make sure people are able to get services they need.
"We need to be close to the people," said Durandisse.
He says a new space for all those services is crucial.
The borough said in a statement that the creation of a new community centre is on the agenda for the Park Extension Roundtable, a consultative body which brings together stakeholders in the neighbourhood, and that they are helping the organizations find alternative spaces.
Parents rally for centre
Students at Barthélemy-Vimont elementary school, which is connected to the centre, say they enjoy having so many organizations nearby — and then there's the library.
"You can read books, you don't have to go outside when it's raining," said nine-year-old Brahjot Singh.
"There's some classes downstairs of guitar and stuff," said Harmanvir Singh Rana, who said he also enjoys playing basketball at the centre.
Parents at the school are also speaking out to keep William Hingston as the community hub in Parc-Extension.
"My kids use this building multiple times a week. I rely on this building for a ton of different services," said Rachel Shugart, who is on the parents' committee at the school.
"I think everybody that lives here is going to be behind us to try and make sure the CSSDM understands how important this is."
Laura Wills, who has two children at Bartholémy-Vimont, said the centre acts as an after-school program for children at the school.
"They come around here for basketball, karate, and to use the library to study and do homework and meet friends," she said.
"I sort of feel like my whole life is in this building, so it's kind of upsetting to think that it's going to be dismantled."