On a Sunday morning, the Coal Harbour Community Centre in downtown Vancouver is busy with activity.
Young men and women haul heavy hockey bags on their shoulders as they walk through the automatic doors. Seniors out for a walk along the nearby seawall, pop in to say hello.
“The biggest purpose of community centres is to bring people together and make strangers friends,” said Dory Lanenter, president of the West End Community Centre Association.
However, this community centre will be closed to the public for three months starting in January 2010 because of the Winter Olympics. Residents fear it could undermine Coal Harbour’s sense of community.
Community members will have to part ways and visit other centres in surrounding neighbourhoods during the three month closure, when the facility will serve as an intergovernmental relations office for the Winter Games.
West End association president Dory Lanenter fears that the sense of community created by the centre at Coal Harbour will dissipate when the facility closes.
The community is comprised mostly of 25 to 34-year-old residents who have university degrees. Almost half of them work outside of Coal Harbour area. Approximately 93 per cent live in high rise apartments, according to Statistics Canada 2006 census data.
Lanenter said the centre created opportunities for residents to meet and get to know each other. During the past two years, the West End association organized several events at Coal Harbour including outdoor movie nights.
Listen to an interview with Dory Lanenter:[audio:https://thethunderbird.ca/html/wp-content/themes/WpAdvNewspaper/audio/Lanenter.mp3]
From indoor soccer to the Olympics
Instead of the usual mix of yoga classes, indoor soccer, and children’s dance programs, the centre will provide offices for government officials responsible for coordinating itineraries for visiting dignitaries.
Coal Harbour was chosen as an ideal location in 2008 by the Protocol Coordination Committee. The committee consists of representatives from the city of Vancouver and the provincial and federal governments. Representatives from the committee could not be reached for comment.
However, Thomas Soulliere, acting director of parks and recreation for Stanley district, which includes Coal Harbour, said that the area’s proximity to media and convention centres in downtown Vancouver made the site an optimal choice.
“It’s a real hub of activity here,” Soulliere said.
Because of the closures, residents will have to turn elsewhere for community activities.
The community centre received roughly 162,704 visits last year, according to the Vancouver parks board. Some, but not all, of the programs will be transferred to the West End Community Centre or Barclay Manor, eight blocks away.
Warren Coughlan, supervisor of recreation services for the West End and Coal Harbour community centres, said that he is confident that Coal Harbour will return to business as usual when the centre reopens in April.
“I would be surprised if we didn’t get our numbers back up quickly,” he said.
Residents are not so sure.
“It’s [Coal Harbour’s] not as close knit as the West End,” Lanenter said. “A loss of community sense, to me, is a bad thing.”
He is concerned that Coal Harbour residents will explore other options and not return to the community centre after the closure.
One new resident making plans for the closure is Jennifer Porter. She intends to start using the West End centre while the Coal Harbour facility is closed.
“I was interested in going to a yoga program there,” he said. “I was looking for programs to start using.”
An unwelcome inconvenience
Though the parks board has been aware of the upcoming closure for at least a year, winter programming for 2010 was decided just weeks before the winter brochure’s release in late November.
Recreation supervisor Coughlan said this is because recent community feedback had to be considered.
“Let’s say you start planning this in the summer and all of sudden programs that you offer in the fall might be popular. You can’t just turn around and say ‘we’re not going to offer those anymore,’” he said.
West End association president Lanenter estimates that a third of Coal Harbour programs could not be moved.
Currently, Coal Harbour’s gymnasium is in use over 60 hours a week for community programming. Approximately eight hours are devoted to recreational basketball and five hours are reserved for indoor soccer programs for adults.
During the closure, the West End Community Centre will offer two hours of gym time for adults to play indoor soccer and less than two hours for basketball games each week, according to the 2010 recreation brochure.
This poses an inconvenience for residents like Charlie Carrick who plays indoor soccer at Coal Harbour.
“Some guys register for these programs on the day that they are released at 7 in the morning. Sometimes it’s hard to get in,” he said. “The course is pretty popular.”
Other options will be available, but it is still a nuisance for Carrick.
“The Went End Community Centre is still very close, but it could be a little inconvenient for people around here,” Carrick said. “Anything that is disrupted because of the Olympics is annoying to me.”