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Norfolk eyes site for recreation complex

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Norfolk County has taken a critical step en route to preparing a “shovel ready” proposal for a recreational hub in Simcoe.

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The county announced on Oct. 18 that it has secured a conditional option on 24 acres of land at the corner of Ireland and Decou roads.

A confirmed site is important now that Norfolk is preparing a grant application that could produce as much as $36.5 million in federal and provincial funding for the new recreation complex.

Senior governments give priority to funding applications that are ready to proceed. A confirmed site is part and parcel of being “shovel ready.”

In a news release, Mayor Kristal Chopp encouraged the community to get behind the $52.7-million project, which – at this stage – includes two NHL-rated ice surfaces, an eight-lane, 50-metre swimming pool and acquatic centre, and a 15,000-square-foot space for a new seniors centre and an innovation centre.

If approved, the facility’s design will make allowances for the future construction of an indoor soccer complex and a double gymnasium for tennis, basketball, volleyball and the like.

“We need to think differently about our recreational and educational experiences,” Chopp said. “We need to build something bold and innovative – a place that brings out the best in Norfolk’s many creative, talented residents – and helps them live their best lives.

“The ALL-Norfolk Community Centre will be just that: A sustainable, universally accessible place that will serve the diverse needs of all residents, regardless of age or ability. I’m very excited that we’ve taken this important step toward making it a reality.”

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Executive members of the Simcoe Seniors Centre have told Norfolk council their 550 members are not enthusiastic about a replacement facility outside the downtown core.

Waterford Coun. Kim Huffman said council is aware of the senior centre’s preferences. Huffman added that – with this proposal – the county is preparing for a future where seniors are more active and fitness-conscious than they have been in the past. She knows of seniors who drive out of the county to take advantage of facilities Norfolk lacks.

“The individuals speaking were speaking for the current generation of users,” Huffman said. “We’re looking down the road to the next generation. We have a very active group of seniors coming in.”

Members of Norfolk’s Recreational Facilities Advisory Board (RFAB) vetted potential sites. Board members include local professionals and four members of Norfolk council, including Chopp. Huffman said tapping a parcel whose owners would accept a conditional offer was a major consideration in the site-selection process.

“I’m really pleased with this location,” Huffman said. “A lot of expertise went in to determining where this will go.”

Norfolk is considering a new recreation complex because the Simcoe Recreation Centre and the Talbot Gardens arena in Simcoe are aging and will need millions in repairs and upgrades in the years ahead. As for the Simcoe Seniors Centre, it is located in a 125-year-old building.

On Oct. 15, Simcoe accountant Gord Malo – a member of the recreational advisory board – told Norfolk council it makes economic sense to take the maintenance money earmarked for these facilities and pour it instead into something new and modern that will serve the community for decades to come.

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A factor weighing heavily in the Decou-Ireland decision includes its proximity to the Simcoe campus of Fanshawe College. The recreation board sees a modern recreational complex beside the campus producing synergies beneficial to the wider community.

“From the development of culinary skills in a community kitchen to the exchange of ideas in the innovation centre, the possibilities for collaboration that a new community and recreational centre presents are endless,” Chopp says.

The deadline for filing funding applications is Nov. 12. At this point, Norfolk council’s support for a new recreation centre is contingent on receiving significant funding support from Ottawa and Queen’s Park.

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