Thunder Bay

Underground Gym hopeful about potential new home

A Thunder Bay, Ont., drop-in centre for underprivileged youth is hopeful it may soon have a new home.

Youth drop-in organization has asked the City of Thunder Bay to donate south-side building

Underground Gym founder Peter Panetta has asked the City of Thunder Bay to donate a vacant building on the corner of Leith and Hardisty streets to the organization, which has been without a home since a fire in November. (CBC News)

A Thunder Bay, Ont., drop-in centre for underprivileged youth is hopeful it may soon have a new home.

The Underground Gym lost its previous building in November. The Simpson Street location was heavily damaged and could no longer be used due to a fire that destroyed two neighbouring buildings.

Now, Underground Gym founder Peter Panetta said he's found a possible new location, a vacant building on the corner of Leith and Hardisty streets, that would meet all the needs of the organization, and the youth who make use of it.

"The city owns this [building]," Panetta said. "It's got three floors. It would accommodate the youth centre, a gym, a boxing club, a kitchen, it's amazing."

Panetta said since the fire, he's been providing what services he can out of the Underground Gym's van.

"I pick up the children, and I accommodate between ... four and 12 years old," he said. "We go and do whatever. It could be bowling, it could be painting at the library, it could be making gingerbread houses, we go for hikes, we've gone snowshoeing."

But he's unable to provide all the services he could with a building, and Panetta said he's unable to work with teenagers.

Underground Gym operator Peter Panetta stands in the organization's former home on Simpson Street in November, after a fire destroyed two neighbouring buildings. The Underground Gym building was heavily damaged in the incident, and could no longer be used. (Matt Vis/CBC)

"I don't have a gym where the [teenagers] can come and lift weights or go on a treadmill," he said. "So a big chunk of the Underground is gone."

"I'm accommodating as best as I can with what I've got, and that's all I can do," Panetta said. "But it's not enough. Sure, I'm taking care of 20 kids or whatever, 25 kids, but there's a whole lot more that need it."

Panetta said he's sent his request to both city council and city administration, but hasn't heard a definitive answer yet, despite the need for more programs like the Underground Gym in the city.

"I'm hoping that maybe they will see the validity of our program, and once our program is re-established, hopefully there will be more in the city, in these vulnerable areas of our city," he said. "We have to try."