Future of Scout Hut has local Scouts concerned over future of their home

·8 min read

Leaders of the local First Ridgetown Scouts club are concerned about the future of their home meeting space.

Chatham-Kent Council amended a motion to have The Kiwanis Club of Ridgetown take over operations and liability for the ‘Scout Hut’ on Ebenezer Street after multiple councillors spoke up to ensure other service groups retained the same level of access.

Councillor John Wright put forth a motion to have Chatham Kent enter into a legal agreement with the Kiwanis Club of Ridgetown, chartered in 1947, to lease the building for a three-year period at $1 per year as a pilot project.

“Both Rotary and Kiwanis were invited to a meeting, and we discussed the different ways in how this would work,” said Wright presenting the motion.

But Adam Frazee, a 22-year resident of Ridgetown and Scouter with the First Ridgetown Scout group, has concerns. He admitted, at first glance, that the notion of the Kiwanis Club taking over control of the Scout Hut would appear as something that would be ok. However, he said the lack of information shared with the Scout group has been very concerning.

“We were first notified the Kiwanis Club was looking to acquire the Scout Hut on February 18. We were reassured that nothing would change for the Scouts, and we would be included in any future meetings pertaining to the Scout Hut changing management. However, during an impromptu, informal discussion on April 16 with a member of Kiwanis, we were informed we would be charged anywhere from $50 a week or maybe $1,500 a year,” he said.

Frazee said what is lacking in Wright’s motion is the mention of the continued and historic free use of the Scout Hut by Scouts and guides or any mention of youth being the primary user of the building.

In a deputation given to council, the Kiwanis Club of Ridgetown has switched from a meeting-driven approach to a mission-driven one.

“Currently, the Scout Hut building has little activity for community use, with the exception of the Ridgetown Scouts. This building is at risk, as it has been for many years, due to expenses and lack of use. This is an amazing building the Ridgetown Rotary built many years ago for the Scouts, and it has never been the intention of the Kiwanis Club to dismiss the Rotary Club for their contribution to this building and the community and want continued success for the Ridgetown Scout groups,” read the deputation from the club.

However, the club said they need to find a way to recover the costs of running the building without causing financial hardship.

“After reviewing utility costs of approximately $6,000 in 2019, since then, the only rental income for the Scout Hut has been from Elections Canada and a private family Christmas, which generated $1,200,” said the club. “In order to cover the utility costs, we would need to generate more than $120 per week.”

The Kiwanis Club of Ridgetown said they are offering to take over running the building, including rentals. However, they are requesting financial assistance from the municipality to cover utilities for the next three years.

“We believe we can become self-sufficient in taking over the running of this building and making it a successful community centre,” said the club.

As it stands, the Scouts use the building Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and have the use of a storage area that is approximately 10x20. According to the deputation from the Kiwanis Club of Ridgetown, they have no intention of changing these days and storage being available to them going forward.

However, the club highlighted that the Scouts paid $20 per hour for rent in the past.

“We propose in the future they would pay $50 per week for the 32 weeks used. The Kiwanis Club would hold their meetings on Thursday nights and pay the $50 per week for meeting space and use the storage area,” said the club.

While admitting this would be a financial change for the Scouts, the Kiwanis Club believes the Scouts have many ways they can request financial assistance.

According to Angela Frazee, group commissioner for the First Ridgetown Scouts, since her family has been directly involved in the First Ridgetown unit over the last seven years, they have provided voluntary janitorial services for the building.

“We were told this was an agreement in our contract as a tradeoff for free meeting space. We are not just a user of this space. We are a true partner and feel we should have been taken into consideration as stakeholders before the building is handed over,” she said.

The group commissioner added that the Scout group doesn’t just provide leadership for Ridgetown youth. She said the group includes families coming from Blenheim, Cedar Springs, Erieau, Chatham, Rondeau, Highgate, Bothwell, Thamesville, and beyond the CK borders.

“This is not just a Ridgetown decision. Each of the 25 families and more than 10 leaders bring their shopping to Ridgetown and boost the economy. The Scout Hut is not just a building; it’s a community Hut that should be shared by all,” she said.

She added she is not sure how the Hut can receive income now as the Hut has been removed from the CK portal as a rental facility

After bringing it to the attention of the municipality, the municipal staff member advised they were told to leave the Hut off the site. Frazee said all other rental facilities in the municipality were listed and available for rent.

“It is difficult to collect revenue from a rental that is not advertised as available,” she said. “I ask council to take our group into consideration and allow all stakeholders to have a voice in the process.”

Meanwhile, Scout leader Adam Frazee said a meeting regarding the future of the building took place May 5 at the Scout Hut. However, he claims representatives from First Ridgetown Scouts were not invited.

“I have been told by councillors and members of the community that it is already a done deal, and the meetings have taken place with officials, and it’s just waiting for council’s seal of approval,” said Frazee.

He said being left in the dark makes him worried about how the new landlord-tenant relationship will work out and has put great stress on some of the leaders.

Councillor Wright confirmed that the Kiwanis were trying to take the building over but had no desire to kick the Scouts out.

According to the local councillor, he confirmed the result of the discussion was that the groups utilizing the space would help pay for utilities with a $50 weekly or weekend fee.

“The building is a good building, but it needs a bunch of updates. The Kiwanis are willing to take that on, with some [funding] coming from grants and some from donations and fundraisers,” said Wright, adding that the space would not be permitted to be rented for events with alcohol.

But Scout leader Frazee said Scouting is not cheap or easy. He added that each family pays a national fee for their child to be in the program, which covers liability.

“Having free access to a meeting space helps keep costs affordable for a lot of families. It is more than just a hall or a meeting space that not enough adults are using or a building that doesn’t make money. It is an investment. It is an incubator that has and will hopefully keep turning our great future citizens into leaders,” said Frazee.

Councillor Steve Pinsonneault said he’d received calls from concerned Scout leaders. He added the $50-a-week fee was very affordable.

“This pilot project could be the start of something good, where we can offload the costs of running these buildings from these service clubs, but they get the benefit of the building,” he said. “It’s a win-win for everybody.”

According to Pinsonneault, the community will see a clear benefit at the end of the three-year pilot project.

Meanwhile, Laura Webb, a mother of two Scouts and administrator for First Ridgetown Scout, said she is very concerned about the motion regarding the building the Scouts have called home for 55 years. She is asking council to amend the motion to include the Scouts who have called this place their home.

“It is not called the Youth Centre here. It is called the Scout Hut,” she said. “To not include us has left some of us Scouters with sleepless nights wondering where some of the youth will end up who didn’t fit in the sports world around here.”

While all of the Council seemed supportive of the pilot project, the motion was deferred, being amended to first complete a report on the feasibility of the agreements with service groups, as well as more details on the general operations under the Kiwanis Club.

It’s estimated it would take 2-3 months to work through the stakeholder input and reporting process.

According to Dave Taylor, Legal Services Director, it would still take 1-2 months even if the original motion had passed.

Council failed Ceccacci’s motion after Wright agreed to amend the initial motion, adding a second statement that the details requested would be provided before final approval of the pilot project. The amended initial motion passed 16-0.

Bird Bouchard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Ridgetown Independent News

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