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City facilities face tough competition from fitness clubs

The fitness room at the Pitt Meadows Family Recreation Centre recently underwent a $823,000 renovation. - Colleen Flanagan
The fitness room at the Pitt Meadows Family Recreation Centre recently underwent a $823,000 renovation.
— image credit: Colleen Flanagan

Revenues from drop-in and membership fees at the Maple Ridge Leisure Centre have dropped in the first two months of the year, since new players arrived in town.

District staff are keeping an eye out to see if new clubs in town, such as Club 16 Trevor Linden Fitness, which opened in January, just metres from the Leisure Centre, is causing the drop in dollars.

When this January’s and February’s receipts are compared to the same two months last year, revenue is down $12,000 at the centre.

That’s a six-per-cent drop, to $180,000 from $192,000, and the centre is still on target to meet its 2014 budget.

However, increasing numbers of private health and fitness facilities are giving people lots of options about how and where to keep fit, staff say.

Everything from pilates studios, yoga clubs, to big-box weight room facilities can drain dollars and visitors from publicly funded community centres, such as the Maple Ridge Leisure Centre and Pitt Meadows Family Recreation Centre.

“There’s significant demand in the community for these gym facilities,” said Kelly Swift, general manager, parks and recreation facilities.

While rec centre drop-in and memberships have lapsed, staff have increased annual memberships at the Leisure Centre by 30 per cent.

Total annual revenues from drop-in admissions, monthly and annual passes, program fees and facility rentals is $1.7 million. That works out to 53 per cent of the total yearly cost of $3.2 million to operate the centre.

Taxpayers chip in $1.5 million yearly.

Swift says that’s a good return when considering other aquatic facilities, which are costly to maintain. That proportion is even better than the Pitt Meadows Family Recreation Centre, which recently expanded and renovated its gym facilities.

The family recreation centre has yearly revenues of $334,000, which accounts for 36 per cent of the $917,000 in costs to operate each year. Taxpayers cover  $583,000 to run that facility.

At that cost, why not let the private sector take over fitness services and spare taxpayers they money?

“Because there’s a benefit to the larger community,” explains Swift.

The Leisure Centre is open to all ages, income levels and abilities.

Meanwhile, private fitness clubs can provide specialized programs for those seeking higher fitness levels, in addition to serving casual users.

The high costs of operating a swimming pool, sauna, hot tub or steam room also means that, generally, only publicly supported facilities can afford to operate such amenities.

“There is a greater good that the community, as a whole, receives when citizens of all ages have access to recreation services and there is much research that supports this,” Swift said.

“The most basic benefit is that it provides children, youth and adults with the opportunity to learn to swim, which is an important skill in B.C.”

It also provides an opportunity for people to recreate together, build social connections and to have fun.

Several programs also help low-income families access recreation programs such as Canadian Tire’s Jump Start program, KidSport and support provided by the Tzu Chi Foundation through the school district.

Maple Ridge Mayor Ernie Daykin welcomes the arrival of Club 16 and other exercise facilities and says it’s natural for people to try out new places when they open.

He added the new club actually gives relief to the weight and cardio room at the Leisure Centre, which was crowded early in the mornings.

“We were becoming a victim of our own success. If you went there at 6:30 a.m., you couldn’t get a cardio machine. I think it’s [Club 16] going to give us a bit of breathing room.”

Families and kids always like the swimming pool in the leisure centre, he added.

Pitt Meadows Mayor Deb Walters said the earlier opening time of 6 a.m. will keep the family recreation centre competitive, adding there’s a private fitness club nearby. The centre recently completed an $823,000 renovation and expansion.

“It’s fabulous and accessible for people with mobility issues,” she said.

“We’re very pleased with it. Now there’s room to move around.” The central location of the family recreation centre means it’s well used, by seniors, high school and elementary students and even daycares.

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