“It’s pretty hard to run the hub in the community when the community can’t gather.”

Author of the article:

Nick Pearce  •  Local Journalism Initiative

A hockey camp held on Aug. 21, 2009 in Aberdeen near Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. (Liam Richards /Saskatoon Star Phoenix)
A hockey camp held on Aug. 21, 2009 in Aberdeen near Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. (Liam Richards /Saskatoon Star Phoenix) Photo by Liam Richards /Photo Liam Richards for the Sask

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When a small town loses its rink, a community loses its nerve centre.

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The Aberdeen Recreation Complex has shuttered, sending ripples through a local community near Saskatoon that formed tight bonds through hockey games, dance classes and curling standoffs since the building opened in 2005.

“It’s pretty devastating. It’s a small town and it’s the main entity and the heart of it,” said Aberdeen and District Charities Incorporated board chair Trevor Cornish.

“It will definitely have a far-reaching impact beyond just right now.”

His organization had to back out of managing the complex after two of its funding sources, the Town of Aberdeen and the RM of Aberdeen, pulled their funding. Other fundraising activities, which Cornish estimates brought in roughly $40,000 annually, aren’t enough to cover the costs. That’s left the future of the complex in limbo.

It was one major mechanical failure away from closing its doors, leaving local leaders with a difficult choice, Town of Aberdeen Mayor Ryan White said.

“Do we wait and hope that we can make it through the season and unfortunately tell our user groups halfway through a season? Or do we make a decision now and look for different models to make (it) work?”

The building has struggled with infrastructure issues for many years and requires costly maintenance, he said.

Its mortgage is about $1.9 million. The town has contributed roughly $120,000 to the complex in the past year to help cover its bills, he said.

Like other community centres over the course of the pandemic, it has also suffered from a declining user base, he added.

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Attempts to auction the building earlier this summer were ultimately unsuccessful, but the two councils were unprepared to shift the financial burden and increased costs onto ratepayers, White said.

McDougall Auctioneers Ltd., which hosted the auction, accessed the property at $10,076,900. It’s a roughly 64,500 square foot building.

The RM of Aberdeen contributed about $95,000 annually to the facility, said a prepared statement from the municipality’s council.

The complex’s “current model for funding and operation was not working and was leading to significant perpetual financial instability, … (which was) only exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic,” it added.

“We understand that residents and users are disappointed by the current situation, but we are hopeful that we will be able to get through this difficult time and provide stability for the facility for the long-term.”

He hopes a community member will offer the funds to bring the complex “back to its former glory,” White said.

“It’s pretty hard to run the hub in the community when the community can’t gather.”

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