After 59 years, a much-loved North Vancouver gymnastics club, that has produced six Olympians to date, will be somersaulting into a new permanent home of its very own.
Having spent decades as a tenant in the Harry Jerome Community Recreation Centre (HJCRC), Flicka Gymnastics Club will be making a fresh start in the Mickey McDougall Community Recreation Centre building in early 2022, when the Harry Jerome facilty is slated to close in preparation for a multi-million dollar rebuild.
City of North Vancouver council voted unanimously at the July 19 council meeting for staff to proceed with detailed design and construction improvements of the aging Mickey McDougall facility – which was originally built in 1967 as a school and later taken over by North Vancouver Recreation and Culture Commission in 1982 – to make sure it can facilitate Flicka’s needs.
As part of the overall HJCRC replacement project, the city and Flicka have been collaborating on the potential re-use of Mickey McDougall since 2018. As it’s an older building, after a refreshed feasibility study earlier this year, both city staff and Flicka decided a renovation at an expense of $4.1 million was the best move at this stage, compared to completely replacing the facility at a cost of $24 million or renovating with a phased expansion at $12.2 million.
It wasn’t an easy decision to come to for the Flicka board, originally advocating to be part of the new HJCRC, but they’re positive they’ll make it work for their club members.
“Given Flicka Gymnastics has been one of the larger programs offered at Harry Jerome for over 40 years [first in Memorial Gym and then in the curling rink], we would have liked to be included in the rebuild project, but we are also happy to move into Mickey McDougall and will do our best to utilize the space to support gymnastics programming on the North Shore,” Sue Whittred, co-president of Flicka Gymnastics Club, said.
The renovation option is hoped to minimize the downtime to Flicka’s programming and will allow the club to operate in the facility in a relatively cost-effective manner, according to city staff. Once up and running, Flicka will be able to determine how well the facility functions for their program, before ultimately deciding on longer-term renovations or new construction.
Whittred said while the board is grateful to have the support of council and city staff to move to Mickey McDougall, they still have some concerns including the facility’s size, the timing of the move and the “daunting” renovations.
When it comes to the facility’s size, Whittred explained that although the total square footage of the Mickey McDougall building (22,500 sq.ft over two storeys) is larger than their current space, the main gymnasium, with 21-foot ceilings, is 10,500 square feet versus the13,860 square feet of their current space.
“The rest of the space has lower ceilings so will have limited programming options,” she said.
Whittred also noted that Flicka’s current space has two full gymnastics floors: one for recreational programming and one for competitive programming, whereas Mickey McDougall will only accommodate one full size floor.
“Therefore, a big challenge for us will be to maintain all our programs, allow for growth, and continue to support external groups,” she said.
Whittred said the most pressing challenge was the timing of the move, which is set for Jan. 1, 2022.
With NVRC in the building up until Dec. 31, Flicka will be unable to immediately move in as they need to install a gymnastics foam pit to ensure the safe training for their participants. The club's biggest concern is that they may have to close and store equipment for an unknown period, suspend programming, and potentially lay off valuable staff if they can't find a solution.
It could also mean the girls miss out on the competition season, which starts in January, for the third year in a row.
While it may be a rocky landing at the new facility, Whittred said the club was looking to the future and hoped to have continued support to successfully fundraise enough capital to add approximately 4,000 square feet onto the gymnasium, and upgrade other areas of the aging building.
She said Flicka had much to be proud of over the years on the North Shore, including the club’s growth from a set-up take-down gym in 1962 at Seylynn Hall to a dedicated gymnastics space at Memorial Gym in 1980, to then expanding to offer both a competitive program and recreational program at the existing HJCRC in 2000. She also highlighted the club’s immense community engagement events and support for external groups.
“We are extremely proud we have been able to grow and provide gymnastics programs that have met the needs of our community,” Whittred said. “The city and district council’s support over generations has allowed this to continue. We are proud to work alongside them to support what is a majority girls sport.”
On top of that, Flicka is the home to current Tokyo Olympian Shallon Olsen, who's a finalist in women's vault, along with five other past Olympians (1968, 1984, 2000, 2012, 2016). More than 20 Flicka gymnasts have also made the club proud with the receipt of an NCAA gymnastics scholarship.
Whittred said to “continually produce Olympians” was “an amazing achievement.”
Council voted in support of transferring $420,000 from the HJCRC project to the Mickey McDougall project for immediate general maintenance required. The funding will be returned to the HJCRC project as part of the 2021 revised financial plan process.
City staff are also pursuing $2.99 million in grant funding through Infrastructure Canada's Green and Inclusive Community Buildings program to support improving the sustainability and accessibility of the facility.
Flicka has committed $400,000 toward installing the gymnastics foam pit and to front the cost of the move.
Speaking at last week’s council meeting, Mayor Linda Buchanan said she was “really proud” the city was able to help Flicka remain in North Vancouver, with fond memories of all her own kids tumbling through the program that she believed was fundamental to all children’s physical literacy.
“They have been on the North Shore and in North Vancouver for the last 59 years, so I guess with this they'll be able to celebrate their 60th anniversary in the new Mickey McDougall facility,” she said.
Whittred said members can expect the club will do their best to provide the same great programming options Flicka has always offered, at their new home.
“We hope to turn Mickey McDougall into a modern gymnastics facility that will support all levels of gymnastics, for another 60 years,” she said.
Elisia Seeber, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, North Shore News