A centre for the community not for profit, say councillors as centre gets set to open

The new €3 million Knocknacarra Community Centre, which is due to open in mid to late August, must retain as much community involement as possible and should not be completely profit driven, according to a number of city councillors who expressed concerns regarding Galway City Council’s plans to tender out the management of the centre to a specialist operator.

At the monthly meeting last week councillors were told how Galway City Council plans to take over the management of Knocknacarra community centre, located at Cappagh Park, on a short-term basis giving officials an opportunity to access the costs involved in running it. It will also allow some breathing room while a tendering process is commenced to find a specialist operator to take over the management of the centre in the long-term. However, despite officials insisting that this was the best possible option many councillors opposed this move, expressing concerns in relation to the costs involved in using the facility, and the fear that the community will have no say

Appointment of a specialist operator is best option, says council report

The report revealed how the possibility of council staff managing the centre or the establishment of a company similar to the Leisureland model was looked into. However, after extensive consultation and research, it was found that the best options was either to have the centre managed by community representatives or by appointing a specialist operator following a tendering process. Regarding the option of the community representatives managing the centre, director of services Ciaran Hayes said in his report that although there were “many advantages” to this, there was concern over the necessary level of expertise that would be required, and the issue of differing community views on how the facility should be used, “with some groups wanting it for exclusive use by the Knocknacarra community to the exclusion of all others, while more requested priority be given to Knocknacarra groups in terms of prime hours and favourable rates”. Mr Hayes added that this and the existence of an existing licensing agreement, concerning the use of dressing rooms between various sporting clubs and the council “presents certain complexities and risks militating against a centre run entirely by the community”. He then stressed that this licensing agreement with the clubs concerned would continue in any new management model. Due to these difficulties the council believes that the best option is to enter into a contract with a specialist operator following a tender process, and that in the meantime interim arrangements would be put in place in order to secure public availability and usage.

“The council is not in a position to run the facility ourselves, it can’t sustain a long-term committment as it would be an unsustainable drain on our finances,” said Mr Hayes, who then advised that the specialist operator could come from the community or the private sector by the tendering process. He also stressed that all efforts will be made to keep as much community involvement as possible, and that the council is open to an advisory committee, made up of representatives from the community and clubs, being set up and liasing with the operator.

“I’m looking for the operator to build a business and incur a minimum level of subvention,” said Mr Hayes, before adding that there will be a capped subvention in the beginning but that this will be reduced year by year.

Retain community involvement in world class facility, says councillors

“We cannot stress enough that this is a world class facility. The challenge lies now in the operation of the facility,” said Cllr Peter Keane (FF ) who queried the use of the term ‘specialist operator’ and whether the operator would be answerable to the advisory committee. “What comfort can we give to the community?” asked Cllr Keane.

Also sceptical of using a specialist operator, Cllr Donal Lyons (Ind ) said there was “a need for community involvement”. “They have to buy into this for it to be a success. This is a community centre by name. The people using the facility would be at a clear disadvantage as the cost of running it far outweighs the money coming in. The operator will need to see a profit. Who will be paying? It will be the clubs using it,” he said.

Noting that this issue has spanned three local elections, six city managers, and has involved at least four sites before Cappagh Park was finally decided on, Cllr Catherine Connolly (Ind ) said: “It has to be a community centre, it cannot be profit driven. It has to be run by the people, for the people. I would ask for the interim process to continue and that the five local councillors agree. The people of Knocknacarra do not deserve this, we have to find a way.”

“This is a state of the art facility, a jewel in the crown. We all want to see the maximum usage of it,” said Cllr Niall McNelis (Lab ). He added: “The population in Knocknacarra has changed so much, there are whole generations who have missed out on this. Get it opened and maybe look at how the community can get more involved. There’s huge expertise out there in the community.”

Also highlighting the opportunity for those with expertise in the community to apply through the tendering process was Cllr Hildegarde Naughton (FG ) who said: “This is an open and accessible facility for every member of the community. Let’s tap into the community expertise.”

Mr Hayes told councillors that he too believed that the involvement of the community is very important but that the council had to be absolutely confident in the abilities and expertise of “whatever group comes forward” to run such a facility. “It is open to the community to put together a team to run that facility but it needs expertise to run and market it properly,” said Mr Hayes, who along with city manager Brendan McGrath agreed that a discussion with the five local councillors, as well as with representatives in the community and the various clubs, could be held regarding the long-term management of the centre.

The report also referred to the naming of the community centre which has been subject to much criticism. It stated: “Despite the fact that directional signage has existed for many years with the wording ‘Coill Bhearna - Páirc Cathrach Bhearna Loch an Roisín’, there appears to have been opposition to the inclusion of ‘Bhearna’ in the wording at the entrance gate resulting in vandalism of the signage.” As the council has plans to ulilise surrounding lands for a city park, the naming issue will be referred to An Coiste Logainmeacha, the place names committee, for their consideration and recommendation.

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