Chelsea Foundation, municipality finally reach Meredith Centre agreement
Nineteen months after the Chelsea Foundation first initiated discussions with the municipality, a formal agreement regarding the operation of the Meredith Centre has finally been approved.
At an extraordinary council meeting on Oct. 30, Chelsea councillors expressed their regret for the length of time it took to formalize an agreement outlining the responsibilities of the Chelsea Foundation and the municipality for funding and operating the Meredith Centre recreational complex, which sits in the heart of Chelsea village.
“There was an unforeseen turnover in personnel, which unfortunately contributed to the lengthening of deadlines,” Chelsea spokesperson Maude Prud’homme-Séguin recently told the Low Down. “We’re talking about some major changes, including a change of director-general and director of recreation, two key positions in this process.”
Fiona Duguid, president of the Chelsea Foundation expressed her frustration with the protracted nature of the process during the council meeting on Oct. 30. Councillors, who voted unanimously to adopt the agreement that night, offered apologies and their understanding, calling the delay “shameful” and “disturbing.”
“I want to say to all the good folks at the Meredith Centre that I’m sorry it’s taken this long,” Coun. Cybèle Wilson, a member of the board of directors for the Chelsea Foundation herself, said to those at the meeting.
Coun. Christopher Blais also apologized, adding, “There is so much that the municipality and the Foundation have in common – we have the same vision, goals, and values. Collaboration needs to be at the centre of what we do…I don’t know the whole story but I believe there was no ill will.”
Chelsea Foundation treasurer Peter Sudderman responded to the councillors, saying, “We have struggled with trust, so it’s refreshing to hear these comments.”
The Meredith Centre, which houses an arena, fitness centre, meeting rooms and a banquet hall, is operated by the Chelsea Foundation, a nonprofit group that promotes sport, culture, and leisure in Chelsea. Costs are covered partly by the centre’s revenue and by financial support from the municipality, which owns the building and contributes between $200,000 and $300,000 a year towards the centre’s operational budget.
According to Meredith Centre director-general Amanda DeGrace, “This money pays 85 per cent of the electricity, and the additional costs are costs similar to what a landlord would incur for any building or home, [such as] a properly functioning water system and heating/cooling systems.”
DeGrace said she wants to emphasize “the benefits and cost savings to the municipality for having this type of agreement.”
John Rapp, former director-general of the Dovercourt Recreation Centre in Ottawa, which uses the same funding model as the Meredith Centre, explained to the Low Down that the partnership of municipalities and nonprofits has many positive outcomes. One of the main benefits Rapp described is the “nimbleness” of nonprofits: “We can say ‘yes’ to ideas a lot faster…programming is easier than if the city was in charge.”
He added that, unlike private organizations, when nonprofits have success, “it means the surplus goes back into the building, programming, staffing, equipment, facility improvements and so on.”
This means that the municipalities are able to save money by partnering with nonprofits, like the Meredith Centre, compared to running the centre on their own or partnering with a private company.
“I always say that the left wing loves it because it empowers the community and the right wing loves it because it saves money,” Rapp joked.
There are benefits for the nonprofits too: as the landlord of the building, the municipality is responsible for ensuring the facilities are well-maintained, meaning the Foundation does not have to take on the burden of upkeep.
“If we need a new roof, it’s not our job to get a new roof,” Duguid told the Low Down in September.
As per the latest agreement, the municipality will be investing more than $1 million in the Meredith Centre over the next five years, according to Prud-homme-Séguin, who explained that, before committing to the investment, the municipality needed to “comply with the legal obligations imposed on us, which entail a certain amount of research and verification.”
The previous agreement between the Chelsea Foundation and the municipality expired in December 2022 but remained the status quo until the new agreement was approved. DeGrace said the Foundation first reached out to the municipality in March 2022 to begin negotiations.
Once signed, the agreement will become a public document.