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Wellesley rec. complex project moves into fundraising mode

Wellesley Township having cleared the way for a potential new $22-million recreation complex, the focus is now on putting together a fundraising campaign that will make it all possible.

Township council last week unanimously approved submitting an application for funding from the federal and provincial governments, whose support will be needed to underwrite much of the cost of new rec. centre.

The Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program (ICIP) community, culture and recreation grant, if approved, would fund 73.33 per cent of the cost. That would leave $5,876,400 (26.76 per cent) for the municipality to cover. A decision on the funding request is expected in late-winter or early in the spring.

A successful bid would still leave a sizeable chunk of change to be financed locally. How can a small township come up with that kind of money? Enter the Wellesley Township Recreation Centre Committee (WTRCC), an organization of some 20 user groups dedicated to helping design the facility. The move was spearheaded Chris Martin, a long-time hockey referee and past president of Twin Centre Hericanes Girls Hockey Association.

“While cost wasn’t a direct responsibility of our committee, it was always present in our discussions, as it should be,” said Martin. “It’s fair to say our committee now will start to focus on fundraising … come the new year, we’ll have a team ready to go along with a strategy.”

To that end, the committee has enlisted the help of Glen Boy of the Waterloo-based organization Campaign Coaches. Boy has experience running campaigns to raise funding for several recreation centres, including Elmira’s Woolwich Memorial Centre in 2008, as well as Listowel, North Perth, and North Dumfries.

Boy is in the midst of conducting a feasibility study designed to gauge the financial capacity of the community, with the $5-million goal in mind. He has interviewed 36 of a planned 54 people throughout the township so far – while the majority reside in Wellesley village, the entire municipality was well represented.

The names were put together by the WTRCC steering committee, and their contact information made available to Boy. Interviewees were selected based on who might have to financial capacity to donate large amounts and those who had a strong identification with the project.

“The people we have approached have responded well, there’s no question about that,” said Boy. “So there seems to be some excitement about it. There are some questions still out there – until they nail down all the details, that’s always going to be the case.”

The study found that 32 out of 36 respondents were willing to donate towards the project. Two individuals gave the indication that they would donate at the $100,000 level or more, four people were willing to give between $50,000-$100,000, seven said between $25,000-$50,000, five said between $10,000-25,000, and nine said between $5,000-10,000.

This would put the potential for donations between $670,000 on the low side, up to $1.42 million. This puts Boy’s recommended goal at $2.5-2.6 million at this time. The survey is not entirely complete, and Boy will complete his interviews by the end of the month, which could change these results.

“Because of the demographics within the township, the donations largely come from individuals and/or owner-operated businesses,” said Boy. “You’re not going to see big multinational companies, because there aren’t any. So you’re going to see the local shops and businesses participating.”

The survey also evaluated potential challenges that may be faced while conducting the campaign.

“There’s a project underway for the restoration of the pond. There are only so many dollars to go along, so now all of a sudden, donors have to make choices,” explained Boy.

Other challenges identified by interviewees include engaging residents in Linwood, Hawkesville and St. Clements, particularly to perceive the project as something for everyone in the township, not just for the village of Wellesley, since the complex is to be located on the parkland of Queen’s Bush and Hutchison roads.

Gaining support from the Old Order Mennonite community or new residents moving into town may prove to be difficult.

“Some of them might not even know there’s a grocery store in town. How do we get them more aware of what’s going on?” said Boy. “So it’s about putting a good communications team together. That solves a lot of the problems.”

When the campaign officially begins in 2020, it will be unbeknownst to many in the community. This will begin what is referred to as the “quiet” phase – according to Boy, 80 per cent of the donations will come from a small portion – just 20 per cent – of the donors. After several months, fundraisers will reach the promotional stage or “community” phase.

“By the time we reach the public campaign, we’re well on the way and then we engage the entire community,” said Martin.

“That’s when the community will do the bake sales, community dances, roast beef dinners; that will raise the final 20 per cent. As part of the strategy, it engages the community. So when we cross the line, we will all cross it together.”

The campaign will last roughly one year, expected to wrap up by March 2021. Any longer than that begins to wear on the community and volunteers, said Boy.

While this campaign will be a collaborative community effort on the local level, a large majority of the funding is still up in the air.

“This grant has potential of 73 per cent. That’s higher than normal,” noted Boy. “In the 30 years that I’ve been doing this, I haven’t seen a grant that high. When Elmira did it, they didn’t get that much, they were more along the lines of one-third (municipality) one-third (provincial) one-third (feds).

“They really don’t have a whole lot of choice but to apply for this,” he added of the ICIP funding.

Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Mike Harris feels that the application, which was due on November 12, is strong.

“I think they’ve got a very good shot and I’m standing 100 per cent behind it,” said Harris. “I want to make it clear, though, I do not make the final decision. I can do all the lobbying I can, but ultimately it’s up to the Ministry of Infrastructure to nominate those programs up to the feds.”

“The key thing is we worked with them through the application process to make sure that from their end that they’re putting in the best application possible.”

During the early stages of putting together an amenities list, the inclusion of a pool was suggested by the recreation committee. However, it was determined that it could actually hurt the chances of a successful funding application due to lower feasibility.

It is not quite as feasible as other amenities due to a short operating season, price, and close proximity to neighbouring municipality pools, such as those in the Woolwich WMC or Perth East recreation complex.

Harris said that if the application ends up being unsuccessful, he will try to look for other avenues to try to make things move forward.

“There’s different grant applications that the municipality can put in for, working with community partners, different stakeholders in the community for fundraising,” said Harris. “There’s other ways that we can try and make things happen. I’m certainly going to be a champion of moving this forward regardless of what we hear from the ministry.”

The complete amenities list included in the application is as follows: an arena with NHL-size ice surface, seating for approximately 500 people (with single side seating and approximately 1,000 spectator capacity of arena), concession stand, eight change rooms, Junior C Wellesley Applejacks room, storage space for ABC, fall fair, skating, curling, soccer and hockey groups, walking track, seniors/active living centre, youth centre, commercial kitchen, gymnasium/community hall/banquet hall with a wall to divide room, fitness gym, gender neutral, family and male/female washrooms, two soccer fields, skate board park, meeting rooms, green space, horse and buggy shed, and walking trails.

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