Nfld. & Labrador

Wabush rec centre facing closure — again

Wabush Mayor Ron Barron says without help from neighbouring Labrador City, the town can't afford to keep the Mike Adam Recreation Complex open next year.

Mayor says the town can't afford to keep the 50-year-old centre open, and will shut the doors Jan. 1

The swimming pool in the Mike Adam Recreation Complex is one of the most popular facilities in the centre. (Labradorwest.com)

For the second time in as many years, the Town of Wabush is set to close the Mike Adam Recreation Complex. 

The 50-year-old centre costs just under $1 million a year to run, and includes a full gym, the region's only public swimming pool, and a bowling alley.

But the town can't afford to keep it open anymore. 

"It's actually devastating," said Megan Preziosi, who has used the facility all her life. She was at the community meeting when the town announced the cash-strapped centre's final days.

Megan Preziosi, centre, says despite an ongoing disagreement between the twin towns, someone should step in and make sure the centre stays open. (Supplied by Megan Preziosi)

"It was quiet. When it was announced there was no sound," Preziosi recalled. "I know for a while people thought it would come because of the closing of Wabush mines, but I don't think they realized the reality of it. It's here."

Preziosi says there aren't any alternative facilities nearby, and that her bowling league will have to hang up its shoes for good.

"It's a big loss. What is there to do now? There's nothing. There goes our bowling alley, our swimming pool, our gym for soccer and basketball and roller hockey," she said. 

"As a young family, who would want to stay here, if there's nothing to offer?"

Funding woes 

The centre serves the entire Labrador West region. Last year, faced with the same situation, Wabush town council made a plea to local businesses — and issued an ultimatum to neighbouring Labrador City: kick in some cash, or we'll have to close the complex.

Labrador City gifted Wabush $115,000 on top of a $300,000 grant the year before. The Iron Ore Company of Canada and Tacora Resources also handed over a combined $350,000.

The province had been subsidizing the cost of operating the rec centre, but that money ran out at the end of 2017. 

Ron Barron says he tried to find the money for the centre once again this year. (CBC)

Since then, the centre has continued to drain the town's finances despite last year's donations, costing 25 per cent of the annual budget to operate. Compared with other communities, the amount should be closer to six to eight per cent.

"We just fiscally can't operate it anymore," said Mayor Ron Barron. "It's not fair to the community that we have to sink a quarter of our budget into our recreation, and other things suffer."

Barron said he asked Labrador City for support once again this year, but his request was turned down.

"They're not willing to do it. So we can't do this anymore."

Ongoing disagreement

Barron warned of the town's current predicament just nine months ago, when he told CBC that Wabush and Labrador City should strike an agreement to share the cost of the complex. 

In Barron's opinion, splitting the burden only makes sense, given that Labrador City residents also use the centre.

Labrador City Mayor Wayne Button would not comment when asked why the town stopped contributing.

A 2017 amalgamation study suggested any rivalry over finances could be solved by joining the two towns, since operating costs for both could be reduced. Back then, both towns voted in favour of the move to amalgamate and create Labrador West.

But Button and Barron haven't shown the same enthusiasm as former mayors, leaving few options for finding the money to keep the complex running.

The ongoing disagreement means little to Preziosi, despite hailing from Labrador City herself.

"I think together they should both be helping out to make sure that rec centre is there for us," she said. 

"If there's something going on between the two of them, look at the loss that Labrador City and Wabush both have to take," she said. "It's heartbreaking for both towns."

With files from Labrador Morning

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