Facility’s time has come

The case is made for a gymnastics centre in Greater Vernon

Vernon  needs a full-time, full-size, fully equipped gymnastics facility. As a former elite gymnast who grew up and trained here in Vernon, it is appalling that the City of Vernon and the Greater Vernon Advisory Committee are still being incredibly unco-operative in helping the North Valley Gymnastics Society build a proper facility.

Our family moved to Vernon in the ’80s before there was a gymnastics club here. Because I was already a competitive gymnast, we travelled to Kelowna four days a week so I could train. In 1991, the gym club was started under the umbrella of the boys and girls club. Then in 1993, NVGS was established as a non-profit organization, which was when I started training there.

The gym club ran out Beairsto school’s gym and the coaches had to set up and take down the old and battered equipment every single night. I trained there for six years, four days a week and worked hard to eventually become a national level gymnast. The facility and equipment were not remotely optimal for a competitive gymnast. We were fortunate enough to have a great relationship with the Kelowna gym club, which lets us use its facility before every competition so we could practice on proper equipment and a full-size spring floor.

Other gymnasts were astonished when we told them what we trained on and that we didn’t have a gym of our own. Imagine the Vernon Vipers training and playing on a pond and you might have an idea of where we were at. It’s heartbreaking that over 20 years later, the current situation is not much better.

Returning to Vernon now with kids of my own, it baffles me that a long-standing, established, not-for-profit gymnastics club is still being stonewalled at every turn. After all of this time, my own children are facing this same disadvantage of not having a proper gymnastics facility. Vernonites pride themselves on raising elite athletes, be it swimming, snowboarding, skiing, golf and of course hockey.

However when it comes to gymnastics, a sport that is recognized as one of the three foundational sports for all other sports by the International Olympic Committee, there is no such support. NVGS has spent decades fundraising so it can cover the costs of a mortgage, the downpayment, equipment and management of the building. They just need land. It doesn’t seem to be a problem to set aside land for soccer, or put into works a plan for another new arena, but every single year, gymnastics is overlooked. Years ago, the City of Kelowna saw the benefit of having such a facility. It partnered with the Okanagan Gymnastics Centre and built a thriving club. Even cities a fraction of our size have proper gymnastics facilities.

For example, Nelson, with a population of 10,000 people, has a fully equipped, full-time gymnastics club, including a trampoline and tumbling facility. Smithers has a population of 5,000 and it has a full-time, fully-equipped gymnastics club. Terrace does as well and to top it off Penticton, has two full gymnastic clubs.

NVGS has been denied by our city for decades. It’s sent proposals in to the government of B.C, and the federal government, and even sent a proposal in to the Canadian military to renovate one of the old abandoned hangers on DND land and were denied. With no support from the city, every other avenue has been turned down. The club, in its current space, is at its capacity, having gone from 250 to more than 600 participants using the facility each week. Despite its training facility, NVGS keeps growing and once again, has a budding competitive program. There is a great demand for the sport and everything that its facility provides, contrary to a quote by Gyula Kiss in the paper. “There is always risk. You never know how usage will happen”, he said of a potential decrease in registrations impacting the club’s bottom line.

A brand new facility is going to have a decrease in registration? Mr. Kiss clearly hasn’t inquired or spoken to anyone at NVGS about its numbers and growth over the years. If he had, he’d know that there’s currently a waiting list for this fall’s registration, as there is every year. If he wants to know how the usage will happen, ask NVGS. It’s had a plan in place for years. When it comes to established non-profit organizations in Vernon, NVGS is hardly a risk.

They’ve been able to withstand decades of change despite people standing n their way.

Many people ask why the club doesn’t just lease a large building. It’s tried. The dilemma with finding a proper building is that most buildings aren’t enough space for a full gymnastics facility or they don’t have enough ceiling height to accommodate the equipment. If a building does meet the size and height requirements, generally there are support pillars scattered throughout the building, which is not an optimal choice for a gymnastics club. Over the last few decades, NVGS has looked at all sorts of potential facilities and have yet to find one that meets their needs. The best possible solution is to build their own. If the city would be co-operative, it would be incredibly beneficial to a plethora of different user groups. The freestyle skiing club would prefer to do its indoor training here instead of driving to Kelowna’s gym. But at this time, NVGS can’t accommodate their needs. Currently, NVGS has daytime user groups such as the Splatsin from Enderby, homeschool programs, Kindale and the Vernon School District’s high-performance alpine ski team. If NVGS had a full facility, the school district could use the facility during the day for school gymnastics programs as it does for swimming lessons at the aqutic centre. There are endless possibilities to how beneficial this would be for our city.

It’s unfortunate that the people who make these decisions for us don’t see that.

“Oh look at that useless, empty, unused gymnastics facility,” said no one ever.

In December 2017, the lease will be up for the club’s current building. If the city and GVAC were to give the club some land now, the club would be able to build a new facility and have it up and running once its lease was up. Now is the time to step up.

Now is the time for GVAC to actually take a close look at what this club offers and how it will positively impact our city in the future. This sport deserves much more consideration than it’s been given.

We won’t let it be swept to the side any longer. We won’t be dismissed. For the sake of our kids, and the growth of the city. we need this facility and we need the help of GVAC and the City of Vernon to get it done. Now is the time.

Robin Nanji