Concern is growing among members of the Meaford Coyotes Track Club over the future of the high school running track they use for training, so they made a trip to the council chamber on Monday, February 13, in hopes of convincing council to purchase the property from the school board.
The message from the mayor however was that it's too early for such a discussion, particularly given that the property in question isn't even up for sale at this time.
Club coach Kevin Hooper made a presentation to council in which he highlighted a number of statistics relating to the general health of the community as compared to provincial averages, and he warned of the potential loss of the current running track at Georgian Bay Community School once a new JK-12 school is built. Hooper suggested that loss of the track could impact the health of the community. Hooper noted that obesity in Grey County is higher than the provincial average, as is the consumption of alcohol and tobacco products, and he suggested that facilities like public running tracks can contribute to a healthier community.
Hooper also suggested that organizations like the Coyotes can help keep communities safer by engaging with local youth.
“A review was developed with the support of the Canada Games Council, the Ontario Track and Field Association, and Brockville Sports, entitled "Youth Sport versus Youth Crime" from 2008. It states: A three percent increase in Canadian crimes for 12-17 year olds between 2005-2006,” Hooper told council. “The rate of violent crimes in the last 15 years among young people has increased 30% [Youth Crime 2008]. Research indicates that youth seek comfort from those who welcome them and reinforce their sense of belonging. Unfortunately, some youth have no choice but to turn to street gangs in order to satisfy their need for approval, belonging, and self-worth. Street gangs are not just issues in big cities. Over the last few decades, there has been an increase in the presence of street gangs in non-metropolitan and rural communities. For example, in 1960, there were 54 cities in the United States with a gang population. In 1995, there were street gangs in approximately 800 cities and towns across the United States.”
Though the Bluewater & District School Board has included a running track in the plans for the new school, there are no guarantees that the track will actually be built, and Hooper asked council to consider purchasing the property in order to ensure that the community will continue to have a publicly accessible running track.
“My wife Shelley and I spoke with a couple of Meaford councillors recently about options regarding the future of the GBCS athletic field. We spoke for about one hour and they were very helpful. We mentioned to them that the BWDSB is not presently wanting to sell the property as it was not in surplus, according to Rob Cummings, but mentioned to them that it was appraised at an "institutional price" of $150,000,” Hooper told council.
Hooper suggested that if the property were to be rezoned, the property could realize a commercial value of $1.5 million if purchased by a developer. In order to avoid rezoning, and having the property sold to a developer, Hooper asked council to consider using $50,000 from Meaford's Parkland Reserve fund to offer to the school board in order to purchase the property.
“The councillors mentioned the Municipality of Meaford has a Parkland Reserve Fund that presently has $100,000 and is available for use. It was suggested we approach the BWDSB with an offer to sell the GBSC athletic field at a discounted price of $50,000. In order to initiate this offer, we need to have the Municipality of Meaford on board with this offer,” Hooper told council. “The Parkland Reserve Fund would be used to pay for the athletic field and then lease the property to the Meaford Coyotes Track Club for $2 per year for 20 years and the Meaford Coyotes Track Club would assume all maintenance costs to the athletic field.”
Hooper went on to suggest that under his proposal the school board could also be guaranteed free use of the property for 20 years as a thank you for ensuring the track remained in the municipality.
“This becomes a 'win-win-win' for everyone. The Municipality acquires the GBCS property for a discounted price of $50,000. It then costs the Municipality nothing for maintenance fees for that period of time, as they are assumed by the Meaford Coyotes Track Club. The BWDSB wins because they don't have to build a track/soccer pitch in their new school build. So the BWDSB saves a lot of money with building costs and with maintenance fees, but have access to a paved 8-lane, 400m track, once we begin our fund-raising campaign to upgrade the athletic field,” Hooper told council.
At the conclusion of his presentation, which was met with applause from the large Coyote contingent in the gallery, there were no questions or comments from members of council, however Mayor Barb Clumpus noted that the proposal outlined by the Coyotes running club was perhaps premature.
“It is my understanding, having attended that meeting with you, Dr. Hooper, that surplussing the school is the prerogative of the school board. And our knowledge of course is that this property is not surplussed, and will not likely be surplussed until the new school is built in September of 2019. So it is their prerogative to surplus that property, and it is also our understanding that they'll make every concerted effort to put a track into that new school as well, so I'm sure there's opportunity there for you to have your track for your Coyote club, hopefully at our new awesome school location when it becomes available,” Clumpus told Hooper.
The Coyotes Track Club currently has more than 65 members. The club has been able to use the athletic field at the school at no cost, though they do pay a reduced rate to rent the field for their annual cross-country race, which attracts nearly 400 competitors each year for the one-day event.
Photo: Coyotes running club coach Kevin Hooper made a presentation to council on February 13 in which he asked council to purchase the property where the running track is located from the school board.