Renfrew -- The Renfrew Tennis Club was officially notified last Wednesday by town council their 40-year-old tennis clubhouse, built and paid for by its members, along with the tennis courts, fencing and any other infrastructure associated with the club will be removed beginning this week to make way for a new indigenous Cultural Centre.
The municipally-owned land that housed the club will become the site of the new cultural centre dedicated to the local First Nations people as part of a multi-million dollar project to expand the 41-year-old Ma-te-way Activity Centre.
The decision to remove the tennis facility was made at a special council meeting last Tuesday night as Mayor Don Eady and council wanted a resolution to the matter so there would be no delays in the overall construction on the massive ex-pansion project scheduled to begin this week with a completion date of late 2022.
The weeks leading up to last week’s council meeting had several club members canvassing the town trying to grow a base of support for their cause to leave things status quo. Over the last two months there have been a series of meetings between the town’s recreational staff, town councillor and Chair of the Recreation Committee Tom Sidney, and various members of the committee including current president Troy Lariviere and long-time member Robert Pelletier.
Instead of at first resolving issues, the animosity grew when members found out they would need to pay a one-time $75 fee along with annual rates scheduled to increase by $10 for nine consecutive years. Several members were not impressed with the financial costs and maintain that raising rates is a serious problem. Speaking on behalf of the club, Mr. Lariviere said the escalation of annual membership rates has many members fearing it may be the death knell of the club.
“The trend in Ontario has seen memberships drop off and, in some cases, the end of clubs and tennis in small communities,” he said. “Our members are really upset about how all this has happened. Unlike most modern tennis clubs that are taken over by a local government, they have either left their club membership or some have given up the sport altogether. A lot of kids don’t play hockey and tennis was a good route for them. We had some great volunteers like Garry Irving who gave hundreds of hours coaching kids and the ones who were always fixing something to keep our club looking good. We all took pride in our club.”
Mr. Lariviere and other club members met with members of the recreation committee a day prior to the special council meeting in a last-ditch effort to try and maintain the current status of the tennis courts. The contentious issue of the fee adjustments recommended by the recreation committee was the main sticking point which led to club members countering with an alternate fee schedule they felt was both fair, and if adopted, would dissuade current members from leaving the club.
When the special meeting was held, council adopted a number of resolutions including excavation of the current asphalt covered areas and dismantling of the tennis site this week so they stay on schedule. The Renfrew Tennis Club’s proposed fee structure, which included a sizable donation towards the long-term longevity of the new tennis courts, was rejected.
“The outright rejection of our offer was never taken seriously,” Mr. Lariviere said. “We offered the town $10,000 cash up front and raise the membership fee by $10 each year for three years. Our current membership is $85 so in year one we would raise it to $95 with the extra $10 going to the town. “That means our 150 members produce $1,500 in the first year on top of the initial $10,000. It would increase by $10 each of the next two years. After three years, based on 150 adult members, the town would now get $4,500 annually in direct profits.”
Despite the counter offer to the town, Coun. Sidney said it comes down to a case of equality for anyone or any group wanting to use the facilities.
“What it comes down to is that the tennis club is no different from Renfrew’s hockey, soccer and baseball teams who rent the required facilities at a set price,” he said before the meeting last week. “As well, there may very well be a possible influx of residents deciding to take up tennis for the first time as the courts will be open to all of the general public. These courts are for much more than tennis as the local pickle ball league wants to play at Ma-te-way and the new tennis courts will accommodate that issue.”
When council met last week, all were acutely aware there may be negative reactions taken by some not in favour of the move. According to Mr. Lariviere, the membership was receiving mixed signals on how the imposed hike in fees will be used.
“At last week’s special council meeting, Director Kevin Hill stated that the surplus revenues generated from the annual court fee are going into the funding formula for the expansion project,” Mr. Lariviere told the Leader. “Meanwhile we've been told the fees are being charged to resurface the courts every seven years and completely rebuild it every 30 years. It's just been very confusing.”
During the special council meeting one resolution called for the court facility fencing be deemed surplus and allow Horton Township to remove it at their own expense for use at their outdoor rink; the second authorized staff to commence construction of six new courts, utilizing quality contractors. Another motion had council approve the court membership fees and hourly rate charge. All actions are leading to a Memorandum of Understanding with the tennis club to be presented to council prior to end of the construction.
“I was very pleased that council unanimously approved all recommendations by the rec committee to move forward with the relocation of the town-owned courts,” Coun. Sidney said. “The additional two courts (six in total) will allow the recreation department to now offer multiple racket sports for our residents.”
When the time came to call for the vote on each piece of business, Councillor Sandi Heins requested a recorded vote on each item. Councillor Andrew Evans and Reeve Peter Emon were absent during the proceedings. The remaining members -- Councillors Arlene Jamieson, Mike Coulas, Tom Sidney and Mayor Eady, along with Coun. Heins -- unanimously voted in favour of the motions calling for the removal of the existing tennis courts and other matters related to tennis.
As expected, Mr. Lariviere said the membership was bitterly disappointed with council’s decisions.
“We were very disappointed with the decision to pass all the motions recommended and I did write council endorsing four of the five motions,” he said. “However, our club insists the fee structure that is being proposed be struck down. Instead of embracing and utilizing the vast experience the RTC has in providing exceptional recreation programs without incurring any debt over 41 years, the tennis executive was dismissed throughout the entire planning process.
“This action has put the Town of Renfrew at risk of losing many long-term tennis volunteers, all of whom provide the quality programing that attracts the patrons to the courts and may adversely affect the future usage of the new courts.”
The 76,500 square foot expansion project at Ma-te-way will see the current arena and hall expanded to include an Indigenous Cultural Centre, an NHL sized ice surface, six dressing rooms, an elevated walking track, fitness centre and regulation sized gymnasium, multi-purpose rooms, administrative offices and lease space. The expansion will improve access to cultural infrastructure and better meet community needs through enhanced and accessible recreational facilities.
The total cost of the project is estimated at about $16 million.
Bruce McIntyre, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader