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City Holler

Trish Kelly explores the issues and challenges that face our growing city.

Vancouver community centre operating agreement won’t help hungry kids

If we ran our libraries the way we run our community centres, your local branch would have to say 'I’m sorry we don’t have it,' or set up a fundraiser to get the money together to buy a copy.

Community centre users work out at Killarney Community Centre.

Emily Jackson/Metro

Community centre users work out at Killarney Community Centre.

Wednesday night, the Vancouver Park Board will hold a special meeting to discuss how our 23 community centres are run. The event is anticipated to be so contentious the Park Board has rented the Wosk Centre downtown to accommodate all of the upset people and they’ve even got a hold on Thursday for additional speakers.

While you might assume community centres are run like other public assets, for example like your neighbourhood library branch, it’s much more complicated than that.

The Park Board has contractual agreements with neighbourhood-based associations who actually make many of the programming and financial decisions at each centre.

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While the original intention of this joint operating agreement was to ensure programming reflects the unique needs of the neighbourhood, there are lots of negative consequences to running a public asset this way.

It’s true, every community centre is unique, for example, some have pools, others have ice rinks, kitchens and steam rooms. The nicer ones also bring in the most revenue.

Community centres don’t share revenues, so if you live near a community centre that brings in less revenue, there probably isn’t money for upgrades of the run-down gym equipment or to create programs that reflect the neighbourhood needs, like a breakfast program for kids from low-income families.

While a community centre with great amenities might actually make more money than it needs and sit on a surplus, the other community centre scrambles to apply for grants to cover the costs of its breakfast program. Isn’t that bizarre?

Think back to the last time you wanted a library book that was not available at your branch. Since you could see the book was available at the main library, you just requested a transfer and a few days later, the book arrived.

It’s one system, and the entire collection belongs to us all, regardless of what neighbourhood we live in. If we ran our libraries the way we run our community centres, your local branch would have to say “I’m sorry we don’t have it”, or set up a fundraiser to get the money together to buy a copy.

In the current arrangement, richer community centres haven’t volunteered their surpluses to feed the kids at poorer community centres. If you think they should have to, then you’ve got a date with the Park Board on Wednesday night to tell them so.

Editor's note: A previous version of this column incorrectly stated that pools were run by volunteers and that revenues from them were collected by community centres. In fact, Vancouver's pools, rinks and some fitness centres are operated by the park board across the community centre network. Metro apologizes for the error.

Trish Kelly lives and writes in East Vancouver. Follow her on Twitter @trishkellyc.

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