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Cash-strapped Cook Street activity centre faces closure

Feb 11 2012

The Cook Street Village Activity Centre is on such shaky financial footing it is on the verge of closure.

Worried about an inability to meet its payroll this month, the centre asked the city to advance two-thirds of its annual operating grant immediately, instead of the normal one-third.

But following a staff recommendation, the city’s corporate services committee is suggesting the council does not approve the request.

The centre will meet its payroll this month and should be able to continue operating until summer, but after that all bets are off, said executive director Crystal Hill.

The problems are due, in a large part, to boomers turning their backs on what is historically known as a seniors’ centre, Hill said.

“It’s just changing the perception of what we actually do here and who we serve. We are a vibrant activity centre. You don’t walk through the doors and see bingo and cards. There’s everything from yoga to Zumba to arts and crafts, and events,” she said.

Victoria director of parks and recreation Kate Friars confirmed the centre is at risk of closing.

“If they don’t get an infusion of cash, I think they would be [in danger of closing],” Friars said.

The city’s 10 community and seniors centres operate pretty much independently, Friars said.

But the Cook Street centre has a special funding request before the city for $85,000 in sustainability funding.

“We don’t intervene unless there’s some request on their part to do so,” Friars said. “Of late, we were asked what would the city be willing to do to help them out of this bind and now we’re trying to figure out and look at their books and find out how they got there.”

The centre operated with a deficit of about $42,000 in 2011 on a budget of $236,872, said Coun. Pam Madoff, council liaison to the Fairfield neighbourhood. It is projecting a deficit of about $45,000 in 2012.

That could be reduced if it received additional programming grants, but even with those grants, it is not projecting to break even this year, she said.

“Financially, we’ve had the hardest year we’ve ever faced in the history of this organization,” Hill said.

Hill said the centre hopes special funding from the city will enable it to expand its marketing, services and programs to serve an 18-plus demographic, not just 50-plus.

In a letter dated Nov. 25, signed by Hill and board chairman Bob Sammons, the two say the last several years have presented several financial challenges.

“We have deliberately not increased membership fees recognizing that seniors are already financially vulnerable and facing the challenges of the economy. Nor have we had the financial resources available to undertake an aggressive marketing/publicity campaign that would attract new members — particularly the growing 50 years plus boomers market,” the letter says.

The centre has $100,000 in grant applications out to organizations such as the Victoria Foundation, the United Way and New Horizons, and is finalizing an application for an $85,000 provincial government Community Gaming Grant.

But membership has dropped steadily over the past two decades. The centre had 1,200 members when it opened in 1992 but today has a base membership of 350. Hill said there has also been a drastic drop in donations.


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