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  • Writer's pictureTrevor Greenway

Chelsea Foundation key to Meredith Centre’s newfound success

Things may be ticking like clockwork these days at the Meredith Centre, but ask any founding member and they’ll tell you that this success didn’t come overnight. It has taken years of hard work by “contagiously passionate” Chelsea Foundation volunteers to get the Meredith Centre to where it is today.

“Currently things are working very, very well, but it hasn't always worked perfectly,” laughed Chelsea Foundation president Fiona Duguid. “The Meredith Centre has been around for 10 years now, and we did have a whole bunch of years where it was very tricky. In the last two-and-a-half years, things have been really good.”

“Tricky” could be a bit of an understatement; the exterior wall collapsed less than a year after the $10 million centre was built in 2012 and the building was plagued with mold issues for over a year before the municipality had to absorb a $700,000 fix.

The centre has gone through its fair share of “growing pains,” but Foundation board members are confident that they have the right people and the right model in place to be successful – and profitable – for years to come.

“Honestly, I can’t say enough about our board members — these people are top notch,” said Duguid, adding that several of the seven board members that make up the Foundation’s decision makers have extensive experience — people such as Global Affairs senior staffer Jamie Collins and Jordi Pardo Pardo from the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute. “They just bring a set of skills and knowledge to our board and a commitment to our community that is phenomenal.”

The Meredith Centre is completely managed by the Chelsea Foundation, a non-profit group formed in the mid-1990s with the aim of raising funds and finding land for a central Chelsea community centre. Today, the Foundation manages the centre; the gym, the arena schedule, the karate classes and all the fun stuff that Chelsea residents get to do inside the building.

The municipality owns the building and is essentially the landlord of the space. It takes care of repairs, maintenance and pays the bills to keep the lights on so that the Chelsea Foundation doesn’t have to. Instead of worrying about faulty dressing room showers or a broken zamboni, the foundation can focus its time and money on programming for the community.

“If we need a new roof, it’s not our job to get a new roof,” explained Duguid.

Aside from the dedicated volunteers that make the centre chug week after week, Duguid credits residents for helping the Meredith Centre find its footing.

“For good or bad, Chelsea has grown,” she said. “And it has grown, for the most part, with people who are prepared to use the community centre — they’re used to that kind of thing and they want that kind of thing. And so our programming can reflect the needs of the community.

“Whether it's hockey, or learning to paint or having your kids at cool summer camps — those are the kinds of things that happen in our community centre. We had a sweet moment when all of those things came together this year.”

The numbers certainly reflect her statements. Arena rentals continue to be the main money maker at the centre, with hockey and skating bringing in more than $666,000 in revenue last year. Summer camps are also popular, with Hills and Ottawa parents paying a combined $280,000 to send their kids to camp at the centre in 2022. The centre had a budget of just over $1,154,373 in 2022 and was able to end the year with a surplus of more than $150,000, money which gets “reinvested back into community leisure projects.”

While much of this financial stability is credited to money that the arena brings in, Duguid also gave credit to the centre’s director-general Amanda DeGrace, who, for the past two years, has been working with her own team to help coordinate and oversee initiatives that take place within the centre — those awesome karate and art classes and stay-at-home safety courses for kids. She’s also brought in new activities like architecture lessons, spin classes and first-aid for families.

DeGrace explained that she’s noticed how the Meredith Centre’s reach extends beyond the Chelsea community. According to her, this year’s summer camps hosted children from many other municipalities, such as Aylmer, La Pêche, Cantley and Ottawa.

“We get to create recreation opportunities and services for the Chelsea community and really beyond in the MRC [des Collines-de-l’Outaouais] and into Gatineau,” said DeGrace. “We are really becoming a destination recreation centre for everyone in the area.”

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