Faced with a proposal to sell Straffordville Community Centre, a group of 50-75 residents gathered to protest before the Oct. 1st Municipality of Bayham Council meeting.
In July 2014 the community centre was 'temporarily' closed. At the time it was expected the closure would last until November. It didn't re-open. Declared surplus by the municipality, despite being eligible for a $250,000 grant from the Canada 150 Community Infrastructure Program, with a matching funds formula, it was put up for sale.
"They did not turn it (the grant) down... they have not accepted it either," noted Marni Wolfe, who presented a delegation on behalf of The Concerned Residents of Bayham Committee, recently formed by residents wanting to preserve the Straffordville Community Centre as a public facility.
"First, we asked them to reconsider accepting the grant," said Wolfe. "We also asked for time because we would like to fundraise and seek corporate sponsorships to help with the matching dollars needed, so they would accept the grant and overturn their decision of making it surplus, and selling."
Council approved by a 3-2 margin to give them time – 30 days to seek corporate sponsorships, returning November 5th.
"They didn't give us any idea if they were planning to accept the grant."
The committee also suggested if Council does not want to accept the grant, handing the community centre over to the committee, who would then register as a charitable group and through sponsorships take care of the centre and keep it a public facility.
"That was part of our request," said Wolfe. "We just asked for time, and they said they would give us 30 days to see if we could come up with some funding. They didn't indicate what their plans would be, if we do come up with the money from interested sponsors, whether they would be accepting the grant or passing it over to us. They said 'come back in 30 days.'"
Speaking to council, Wolfe spoke of the advantages of keeping the Straffordville Community Centre open.
"My argument was that Straffordville was the most used, and had the best rental revenues leading up to the closure out of all the three community centres (Straffordville, Vienna, Eden). It's centrally located within the municipality. It's on a main artery road.
"There are numerous reasons we want to keep it, not just the location and rental revenue histories. It's situated on a beautiful park. We have a playable baseball diamond with lights... there's newer, updated play equipment... a pavilion... a nice, big, beautiful cement pad that can be utilized for many thing... and lots of green space with room for additions or improvements.
"We just feel they chose the wrong one (to keep). We don't want to part with this. We want to keep it a public facility for everybody to use. Not just from our municipality, but from surrounding towns and other townships."
At the Oct. 1st meeting Wolfe also presented Council a petition.
"We sought signatures from all three wards, and in one week we managed to gather 577 signatures. There are a lot of upset people in the community."
A new petition has been started for residents within the municipality, and a petition for non-residents who would like to see it continue as a public building, available to sign at Rose's Sandytown Variety, Mudford's, and Mark's Gas Station and Variety.
"We have volunteers out circulating through the whole municipality," said Wolfe. "We're redoing our petitions so there's a better account of how many people really, truly want to keep it in the municipality."
They also started an online petition and had more than 100 signatures in the first day.
In August, Council did give people in the municipality an opportunity to voice their opinion by sending in letters, but Wolfe said a lot of people were 'out of the know.' There were 60-plus letters in response, evenly divided between keeping it open and those not in support.
"It was really, really close," said Wolfe, noting it divided 31 in favour of keeping it open, 30 not in favour.
"But we didn't feel it was a representation of what the whole municipality wanted, and that's why when we heard they were moving forward with the sale we thought we'd better do something... because there are a lot of people who really, really want to keep it."