Fort St. John Curling Club needs more members

After months of discussion and speculation on the future of the Fort St. John Curling Club and its building, the club will know by August 15 if it will go ahead with another season with eight sheets of curling, or if another option will be needed.

The club held its AGM on Tuesday, June 16, with 35 people in attendance and another 30 watching from home on Facebook, to discuss the results of the club's member survey sent out in May, and talk with city representatives, including General Manager of Community Services Moira Green, about what needs to be done to continue curling in 2020-21 and beyond.

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To date, the club has lost just over $60,000, as the COVID-19 pandemic forced 10 bookings to be cancelled.

Even without the pandemic, the club would lose $50,000 per year at its current rate of fees and membership count. The club had 185 members last season, and simply put, to balance the budget and keep fees from increasing, there would need to be 100 new members paid and registered by August 15. 

"We only curled Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday full time last year," said club President Connie Richter. "Monday, Saturday and Sunday there is nobody in there, and we need to get more juniors and support in there. You can get as many sponsors as you want, but if you don't have any curlers, why have a curling club?"

The club estimates a $250 fee increase would be needed if there were no new members, which would decrease depending on how many new members join the club. 

One of the solutions the club is looking at, and which was brought up in the member survey, is to run only four sheets of curling, and rent out the other half of the building's main floor to another group.

Richter declined to share which groups are interested, but said the club is currently in talks with three different groups. Once Richter and the board begin calling for registration in July, a decision will be made as to whether or not the four-sheet solution will be needed and put into place. 

"Realistically, with the numbers we have, we're not an eight-sheet club, cut and dry," said member Rick Chmelyk from the floor. "The reality is we're not an eight-sheet club, we're a four-sheet club."

Presentation from the City of Fort St. John

One option suggested in the member survey was to close the club, terminate its lease, and hand over operations of the building to the City of Fort St. John. That was always an unlikely solution, and was presented as a worst-case scenario. Following the discussion with the city, there is no interest from the members or board of directors to resort to that, and Green said the city would prefer not to have to operate the club. 

Board members estimated fees would skyrocket to at least $1,300 per member were the city to run the club and operate in a similar fashion to its other recreational facilities. In addition, there would be no guarantee the building would continue to be used for curling, something that Green and city representatives David Joy and Karin Carlson made clear.

"If we took the rink back, we would go to the citizens of Fort St. John to see what they would want to do wtih it. The decision would reside with the citizens, they would be consulted," said Green. "They may tell us it's not curling (that they want the building to be used for), and we need to be prepared for that."

Other uses

A common theme throughout the meeting is that the Curling Club could open the building for other uses throughout the year, especially in the summer, in addition to its regular banquet rentals. 

"We're sitting in a beautiful building, which has been maintained very well, is sparkling clean, in excellent condition, and it's completely empty, COVID aside. It's a single building and it's completely empty often," Green said. "The citizens of Fort St. John need to benefit from it, and how do you include the citizens in it and how do you include them in this operation?"

Suggestions for other uses included having indoor tennis and pickleball courts, a basketball court, or even indoor soccer. These options will all be considered going into the summer months and the registration period.

The club is planning to apply for several grants, including the $40,000 COVID-19 Emergency Relief Business Loan, which would be used to offset operational costs.

As well, the club is currently considering hiring a general manager, a cost that is not currently included in the budget and the expected losses. 

Email sports reporter Dillon Giancola at sports@ahnfsj.ca.

© Copyright Alaska Highway News

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