Saving Centennial Park

 

By Joel Charron

The Centennial Park preservation committee went before the recreation and culture committee to seek help in the restoration of Centennial Park.

After an hour-long presentation at the UCCU Complex on Tuesday night, the recreation committee will recommend to council that no action be taken on Centennial Park until a plan has been devised for its restoration and preservation.

“We need your help,” said Dave Scott, head of the Centennial Park preservation committee.

Scott said when the park complex was built it was to see the bigger picture and provide a proper athletic facility for General Amherst and the nearby elementary schools.

Scott worked with former mayor Bill Gibb and former CAO Tom Kilgallin to get the park built. At the time the park was built Scott was the head of the physical education department at General Amherst. Although Scott has been retired from teaching for some time now he still coaches the school’s junior boys football and basketball teams.

Scott stated that General Amherst raised $100,000 for the construction of the park while the province footed the rest of the bill.

“The taxpayers didn’t pay a thing,” insisted Scott.

The committee is looking for the preservation and repair of Centennial Park, including a new eight-lane track surface and new tennis courts. Scott told the recreation and culture committee that he received estimates from designers of four track complexes that ranged from $350,000 to approximately $450,000 and that included a 20-25 year guarantee with resurfacing after 15 years.

Scott mentioned that by delaying some of the budgetary items this year, he believes the funds for the repairs could be found.

Gibb called the preservation and repair of Centennial Park “an important matter” and pointed out facets of the park were named in honor of community leaders who have since died, including former mayor H. Murray Smith and Ralph McCurdy.

“When we opened this remarkable facility in 1980 it was a premiere track and field complex in the County of Essex, including Windsor,” said Gibb. “It was meant for the whole community. All kinds of activities go on there. I can’t understand why it was let go. It’s an all-purpose facility. It’s open to whatever.”

 

Former General Amherst athletes Meagan Marton (left) and Sam Kellam (right) speak to the Recreation and Culture Committee on why they should restore Centenntial Park .

Gibb said that “we owe it to the community” to restore the park, noting that not only General Amherst uses the facilities but neighbouring elementary schools and a number of seniors, including himself use it to stay active.

General Amherst principal Mary Edwards said that having an athletic field close enough for the students to walk to “is an absolute necessity” and while the UCCU Complex is “a wonderful complex, it is outside of the school’s walk zone.

“It would cost the school $100 per bus to transport students there, “ she said. “Getting parents to drive students isn’t an ideal solution. That disenfranchises students who do not have a parent available to drive them.

The Greater Essex County District School Board has a contract with the town, which saw user fees paid through 2021 for maintenance and access to town facilities such as Centennial Park as well as Wigle Park, which is adjacent to the school.

John Rudak, physical education head and senior football coach at General Amherst, said in addition to senior and junior boys football, track and field as well as senior and junior soccer for boys and girls use Centennial Park. In addition, the tennis team uses the courts at Centennial Park as well as physical education classes during the school day.

“We have a great field at Centennial Park for our teams to use, if it’s maintained, it’s all good,” said Rudak.

Rudak said it is roughly a 10-15 minute walk to Centennial Park for students while a walk to the UCCU complex is estimated to be around 45-50 minutes.

Rudak noted that the overuse of Wigle Park turns the field into a “quagmire.”

Retired General Amherst principal and vice–chair of the recreation and culture committee, Pat Catton agreed that Wigle Park would get “destroyed” if overused.  He mentioned the agreement with the town saw the senior football team move its practices to Centennial Park while activities at Wigle Park would be spread around to minimize overuse.

Former General Amherst track athletes Meaghan Marton and Sam Kellam also addressed the committee. Both girls currently are students and track athletes at the University of Windsor.

Kellam said she had the opportunity to train in Windsor, however a lot of Amherstburg children do not have that chance.

“Whenever we went to out-of town-track meets people knew us as the Amherstburg team who were really good when our track was good many years ago,” said Kellam.

Marton said many of the up and coming track athletes have resorted to running on roads and paved surfaces, which can lead to injuries.

“The problem with running on cement is that you can develop shin splints and you can have problems with your muscles and joints,” explained Marton.

Given the state of Centennial Park, Marton said it would be difficult for young athletes to develop a passion for track and field.

“No one is going to develop a passion if it doesn’t appeal to them,” said Marton.

With the General Amherst tennis program beginning to grow, Marton said the facilities need to be upgraded to encourage success.

Jill Stoyanovich, a nationally certified strength and conditioning coach, said Amherstburg needs the facilities to develop its athletes and that includes Centennial Park.

Stoyanovich stated if the committee wanted to “foster community spirit” parks are the way to go.

“Amherstburg is full of elite athletes,” said Stoyanovich. “To develop them properly we need the proper facilities.”

Deputy Mayor Ron Sutherland was quick to dismiss rumors that the town was considering selling the land.

“There has not been any discussions of selling that property,” said Sutherland. “As for me as Deputy Mayor. I will fight like hell to keep it as it is and to repair it to the way it should be.”

“Rumor mills are so destructive. We have not discussed selling it at all,” added Councilor Carolyn Davies.

Although Sutherland agreed with Scott that Centennial Park is in desperate need of repairs, however he disagreed with Scott’s statement that $400,000 could be made available to repair the park this year.

“We don’t have $400,000 we can take and repair that right now,’ stated Sutherland.

Recreation and culture committee member John McDonald agreed that having green space in the middle of town is “very important” and said the committee should give council guidance and work toward a pro-active plan for the park’s repair.

Rick Daly, manager of business development and programming based at the UCCU Complex, pointed out there could be funding down the road to restore existing facilities. He noted that council, at its Jan. 9 meeting, voted to proceed with a letter of intent to Sport Alliance Ontario to apply for the 2014 Ontario 55+ Summer Games or the 2014 Ontario Para Sport Games.

Bid submissions are due April 30 for the 2014 Ontario 55+ Summer Games with an official announcement of who would host in August. The bid submission for the 2014 Ontario Para Sport Games is Jan. 10, 2013 with the official announcement being in March 2013.

“It’s a win-win situation if you get them,” said Daly. “You are the centre of the sporting world if you get the games.”

Daly mentioned that a successful bid could result in possible asset renovations.

Daly noted that it may not be all-encompassing solution to what Scott’s committee is looking for, but it may be a partial solution should the town be successful in getting one of the games.

 

 

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