Fee hikes boot soccer out of school gymnasiums

Another group has been driven out of gymnasiums in the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows School District because of increased rental fees.

Another group has been driven out of gymnasiums in the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows School District because of increased rental fees.

Last year, the West Coast Auto Group Football Club (WCAGFC) rented 65 hours per week in school gyms, for 65 teams. That was almost all of the time made available to the club by the school district. The players in the under 6, U7 and U8 age groups played soccer indoors. This year, as the local school district raised gym rental fees from a subsidized $5 per hour to $33.75, soccer is moving outdoors.

“We can’t do that [increase] without raising our fees,” said the club treasurer Greg Andrews.

The rental fee had already been set for the coming year when the increase was announced, so the soccer club had to make other arrangements.

“It caught us a bit by surprise,” said Andrews. “So, we reworked the program.”

“The size of the increase was obviously a bit of a problem, and we had no capacity to adjust,” said WCAGFC executive director Misty Thomas. “It’s a fairly substantial chunk to bite off.”

She estimated that it would have caused an increase of 25 to 30 per cent to the $175 fees at that age group.

She noted some coaches have continued with the indoor program, finding other ways to pay for gym space for their individual teams.

The soccer association follows the Girl Guides, who appeared at the Oct. 9 meeting of the school board to ask for a reduced rate. They have also cancelled gymnasium rentals, opting instead to rent halls, churches and other facilities.

Thomas is sympathetic to the board’s budget problems.

“The school district has their challenges, they have their issues, and they’ve made decisions that we have to adjust to.”

She noted that during some winters there have been substantial periods of time when the fields are unplayable. The three turf fields in the district are generally used by older divisions, while younger players can practice in gyms. This year, practice time may be lost.

“They lose that opportunity to develop,” said Thomas.

School board chair Mike Murray said the new rental rates reflect the true cost to the district.

“Everyone knows it costs us money to provide facilities, heat those facilities and clean those facilities,” he said.

School district staff estimate that the school system has subsidized facility rentals by about $110,000 per year.

Murray said some soccer teams have booked space in the gymnasiums, and at this point it does not appear the board’s total rental revenue will decrease this budget year.

Whether there would there be janitorial staff working and the heat turned on in schools if no one is using the gyms, Murray said will be considered when the board reviews its rental fees and feedback from the community.

Trustee Susan Carr, also a director with the WCAGFC, has asked the soccer association to write the board.

“We [the school board] are going to review it, and this is exactly the kind of information we need,” she said. “It is quite a spike increase.

“It probably should have been addressed years ago, and gradually brought up and increased.”

She noted that the rental fee increase was a small part of the budget process. The overall budget was about $130 million, and Carr and her fellow trustees had to wrestle with a $5.66 million shortfall in funding.

“If you don’t know all of the intricacies, it might look like a money grab,” she said. “But we’re not going to raise the rental fees and solve our budget problems,” she said.

She said trustees always intended to review the rental rate increases.

“We want to partner with the community as much as we can,” said Carr.

“I would like to look at it again.”

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