Some sad news came down on Thursday evening; the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka has been forced to permanently close its fitness facilities in Barrie, Orillia, and Parry Sound. For some, that brought the future of a proposed YMCA at Barrie’s waterfront into question.
“We have been fundraising and will continue fundraising, and we do have enough commitments from our community to go ahead with that project,” YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka CEO Rob Armstrong confirmed to Barrie 360 on Thursday afternoon. “I did have a chance to chat with the mayor (Jeff Lehman) today and we are both going to be pushing for infrastructure as we do believe that particular building in the downtown core is critical to the development of the west end.”
“Hopefully we get a green light from the government soon, and would be ready to start immediately,” he added. “The green light is now in the hands of Infrastructure Canada.”
In April of this year, Barrie council voted to approve a zoning application that would allow a highrise development at the city’s waterfront, and central to the project would be a new YMCA facility. It would replace the now-closed YMCA on Grove Street. “We all knew the building has surpassed its lifespan, and that’s being polite,” said Armstrong. “COVID was really the final nail in the coffin.”
Despite the closure of the three facilities, Armstrong remains optimistic. “We are an organization that reinvents itself once every fifty years are so, and I think we’re in that timeframe right now.”
Meanwhile, Armstrong is throwing down the gauntlet in Orillia. “Here is a building that’s in perfectly good shape that we could use in the community for a whole lot of different things. That could be housing, that could be for homeless people, that could be shelters, I have no idea. My challenge to everybody is to really think about that.”
Armstrong says work continues on opening the remaining facilities in the region, and is taking advice from areas that have already progressed further in reopening. “We have been able to communicate with our colleagues in the YMCA United States and YMCA on the west coast who have already opened,” he said. “We will be proceeding probably in a staged fashion where we will open one or maybe two. And then a few more after that.”
Until then, Armstrong says there are many YMCA resources available to the public free of charge through the Y Play At Home program, including activity videos and online kids camps. “And that’s a really great way to continue a relationship with the Y until you’re ready to go into our facilities,” Armstrong concluded.
Those who would like to make a financial donation to the YMCA of Simoce/Muskoka can do so online.