This story was originally published on CambridgeToday on Dec. 6.
After an agonizing year of uncertainty, members of the Southwood Fitness Club can finally breathe a sigh of relief.
Over the past few months, the West Galt fitness club and the city have been working out an agreement that would prevent the clubs closure.
“This club is like no other in the entire city and it would have been a huge loss to see us close,” said Graham Ponting, president of SFC. “With the support of our councillor and the mayor, we were able to negotiate with the city and sign a five year extension.”
Last year the club was given a notice from the city saying they would be closing the club down due to inadequate entry to the facility, something Ponting thought the city was using as an excuse to finally shut their doors.
The relationship between Southwood and the city was in decline as Ponting and his club felt like they were being mistreated by staff.
“It was all a load of crap,” said Ponting. “They said we needed to be fully accessible, but I took the issue to our MPP and they said we are grandfathered in so we won’t need to undergo extensive repairs to stay open.”
During the 2022 closure, one of the city’s reasons was that since the building was municipally owned it would have to follow the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) regulations and meet a certain accessibility requirement.
In a letter provided to Ponting, the renovations would have cost upwards of $700,000.
Once the club had Cambridge Coun. Sheri Roberts and Mayor Jan Liggett on board, they were able to negotiate a deal and properly explain the AODA rules to city staff.
“I think there was a lot of misinformation and confusion around the AODA requirements,” Roberts said. “This is one of the reasons I wanted to get involved and help Southwood keep their doors open.”
Before Roberts was even elected to city council, saving Southwood was on her radar. She saw that the city was using these requirements as a reason to close the facility and knew this legislation was working in the wrong direction.
“So when I was running and campaigning, I heard it over and over again, from neighbours all around just saying, we love this space. It became very apparent that it was literally like a little gem in our area,” Roberts said. “Whether it was on purpose or not, I really don’t like when accessibility is used as a reason to not keep something great going.”
Once elected, Roberts connected right away with staff and started working on a plan to work with Ponting and his team to find a possible solution.
Paul Kan, manager of realty services for the city said in an email to CambridgeToday that to reach this agreement they considered and greatly value the not-for-profit service the club provides to the local community, as well as their ability to take on most of the responsibilities of operations, maintenance and repair of the building/property.
“During this term, we will both be able to review and assess how well this arrangement is working and it will provide the club with more time to map out its future business model,” wrote Kan.
Ponting has said that since the news of them extending their lease broke, they can finally start looking towards the future and building their membership.
“At first they wanted to sign a one year deal, but it’s hard as a business to plan on just one year,” said Ponting. “Now, we can start replacing older machines if we need to and there’s just stability going forward.”
Roberts also commends city staff for helping with the process and changing their tune on the closure of the facility.
“I think this club is one of a kind here in the city. There is just such a sense of community and it’s not as intimidating as other bigger gyms,” she added.
“I mean, the irony of having the councillor who uses a wheelchair be an advocate for the place to stay open, I guess, is strong, but it’s just a testament to the wonderful facility that this is and it wasn’t necessary based on the current legislation to close it for accessibility reasons.”
Ponting and the club are actively looking for new members now that they can provide stability to those who wish to join.