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Hamilton rec department optimistic about future

Councillor Chad Collins tweets about disappointment in programs

By Abigail Cukier
News Staff

Councillor Chad Collins recently tweeted that the Hamilton recreation department could take a lesson from the city’s library system.

“The libraries I go to, any time, any day of the week are absolutely buzzing. I also know they have done a tremendous job increasing circulation,” Collins said. “At the rec centres, it’s quite the reverse. What’s missing is that buzz of activity.”

Collins said at the library’s Central  and Red Hill branches, there are usually line-ups for computers, filled programs and people at every table.

He remembers while growing up in the east end of Hamilton, the rec centre having to institute shifts to accommodate all of the kids waiting to play ball hockey.

“I realize there are some programs now that have a wait list, but in general, I don’t think we are doing a great job reading the tea leaves as it relates to whatever program is being offered,” Collins said.

For example, Collins said, if participants aren’t showing up for ball hockey, perhaps indoor cricket is what they want.

Collins is working to have all recreation centres offer wireless internet access, as well as opportunities for gaming.

“We can get them in the door and then market the rec programs to them,” he said, adding that the Dominic Agostino Riverdale Community Centre will serve as a pilot by going wireless by May. Computers and gaming equipment will be provided.

“It’s a small investment. It’s only a couple thousand dollars at each location. From a recreational and education standing, our money is going a long way.”
In fact, the number of participants in registered recreation programs across the city has increased five per cent over the last five years, from 24,901 in 2006 to 26,137 in 2010. Numbers for 2011 are not yet available.

Bryan Ozorio, director of city-wide service for the recreation department, says his community development section is working on doing even more.

“We are aiming to engage the community more and to develop partnerships to bring in more people to the rec centres,” Ozorio said. “We are being more proactive and going to the community to help develop opportunities and see how they want to (participate).”
Skate to Dream at Eastwood Arena on Burlington Street is a learn to skate and introduction to hockey program being run by the  recreation department, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada and the Hamilton Bulldogs Foundation for low-income families.

The Bulldogs foundation is providing ice time for the 10-week program and city residents donated 200 sets of hockey gear. More than 80 children are participating.

Ozorio said interest in hockey has been consistently declining over the past decade, especially in the downtown area. The recreation department hopes this program will revitalize interest in the sport.

Ozorio says recreation departments across the country face similar issues, as there has been a decline in sport participation over the past 10 years. He acknowledges older facilities and the need for more sports fields are also a challenge.

Dawn Walton, manager of program development, recreation, says users gravitate to the newer, larger locations with amenities like hot pools and water slides.

“There are many great, smaller loctions. I hope people are willing to stop in and visit those locations and explore what recreation has to offer,” she says. “Get out of the mould of going right around the corner and see what is available to you.”

Walton is excited about new outdoor cycling, walking and parent and tot programs. The department will gauge interest in outdoor programs through these offerings.

A fee assistance program, as well as some free opportunities at certain locations are also opening the doors to more people, as are programs like a men-only swim at Sir Allan MacNab Recreation Centre. There are also capital renewal projects at centres across the city.

“We are taking down barriers to get people into the centres,” she said.

“There is a lot of work to be done. But we have addressed a lot of the concerns and keep geting better,” Walton said. “There will be a lot of good things coming out of rec in the coming years.”

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