Rec centres ‘key’ to nation’s health

By Ben Magnus

Recreational facilities are the ideal way to help solve a growing health crisis in Canada, say the Centretown facility co-ordinators.

“At Plant everything was really well thought out when they built it and we are very well equipped to offer a lot of health-and-fitness programs,” says Christine Primeau, fitness program co-ordinator at the Plant Recreation Centre on Preston Street.

Facilities such as the Plant Recreation Centre need more funding, Ontario Health Promotion Minister Jim Watson said in an interview last week.

Current federal infrastructure spending goes to bridges, roads and sewers. Watson argued that separate funding be allocated for sports facilities that have been left to rot.

The Plant centre is a glaring example of a facility closed for several years because it had fallen into such disrepair that it had become unsafe.

“It was in poor shape because not enough life-cycle maintenance dollars had been put into the facility. And as a result, the community was without that pool for years,” said Watson, mayor of Ottawa from 1997 until 2000.

Founded as the Plant Bath in 1924, the historic facility re-opened in 2004 after eight years of closure as the new Plant Recreation Centre.

Outside, there is a basketball court and a soccer field that doubles as a rink during the winter. Inside, there is a weight room, steam room, two pools and board rooms. The facility offers health programming ranging from aquafit and weight-training for seniors to nutrition and exercise programs for low-income women, says Primeau.

Other Centretown recreational facilities, such as the Jack Purcell Community Centre off Elgin Street, haven’t had the misfortune of recent closure or the benefit of major new investment and expansion, so they remain to deliver services as usual.

The Jack Purcell Community Centre’s 18-metre pool may be small, but it is accessible to individuals with mobility impairments and at a temperature of 92 F the water is therapeutic, says facility co-ordinator Linda Pajot.

With more funding, the centre could have a third floor and new equipment, says Pajot.

“The weight room is well-used, it is not state-of-the-art, but it does what it needs to do in a friendly environment,” says Pajot.

While these recreational facilities face low funding, Canada is experiencing a health crisis.

In 2004, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health issued a report which called for a province-wide fight against obesity. In 2005, the Conference Board of Canada indicated that healthcare spending due to physical inactivity ranges from $2.1 billion to $5.3 billion annually.

There has not been a comprehensive program dedicated to investment in sport and recreational facilities in Canada since 1967. It is time to invest in these preventative health measures, said Watson.

At a recent meeting, provincial and territorial ministers responsible for sport urged the federal government to join with them to invest $10 billion over 10 years in sport infrastructure, said Watson.

“I think most of the provincial ministers were quite disappointed, and some were offended, that the federal government refused to even send officials to the meeting,” said Watson.

The provinces estimated the total cost of bringing pools, arenas and recreation facilities up to modern standards at $15 billion nationally; Ontario’s share was $5 billion, said Watson. Ministers designed the $10-billion goal as something that could be achieved by 2017, the 150th anniversary of Confederation.

“These facilities are vitally important because a lot of people just can’t afford to join a private gym, so community recreation facilities act as an affordable way for people to take better care of their health,” said Watson.