Cllr Sarah O’Reilly (Aontú).

'We are fast running out of options'

Cavan County Council is being asked to step in and assist the financially-strapped Bailieborough Swimming and Leisure Centre.

The pool is just weeks away from being drained and the plug pulled on the community project, members atthe September monthly meeting of the local authority heard.

It's a far cry from 12 months ago when members and management celebrated the facility's 20th anniversary.

The centre has approximately 350 subscribed members from across Cavan, Monaghan and Meath, which pay one, three, six-month, annual or five-year memberships. Up until lockdown, the centre had been a busy and viable operation.

Covid restrictions mean that no more than 10 people can use the gym, and no more than 20 use the pool, at any one time. The restrictions have pushed the centre to the pin of its collar and, with the doors still closed, costs are mounting.

In order to ensure the continued safety of the water, the pool's HVAC system is still running, which along with air handling units, cost approximately €4-5,000 per month to operate. Furthermore, the centre must maintain property damage insurance (€929pm). Those same insurance costs have multiplied by two-and-a-half times what they were in previous years as a result of the main historic insurer exiting the marketplace.

It brings the total monthly loss, without any intake, at between €5,500-6,000 per month.

The centre had, at the end of 2019, funds of close to €85,000 in its account.

Operating on a non-profit model, the centre does not received government subsidies like most other local authority operated facilities.

It provides swimming lessons, lifesaving lessons, yoga, gym facilities, personal trainers and exercise classes and is home to both the East Cavan and Silver Fins swim clubs.

Cathaoirleach Sarah O'Reilly highlighted the plight of the centre at the recent council meeting.

“Currently, the enforced government guidelines do not make it feasible for the facility to re-open,” said the Aontú representative, who has been working with the centre's Board of Management to apply for grant funding. Most applications have been refused thus far, reported Cllr O'Reilly. “We are fast running out of options.”

The Council chair thanked the local authority for its support to date - €7,000 in 2020 through discretionary grants.

She welcomed too the initiative by Director of Services Brendan Jennings and John Donohoe to meet with the centre's BOM recently to discuss the present difficulties facing the centre.

“The entire community in Bailieborough have, for 20 years, raised funds, supported, run and maintained this facility. To lose such an important community facility would be a huge blow to our town and the people of our community,” said Cllr O'Reilly.

“We are all very proud of Bailieborough Leisure Centre and its achievements, however, we need your help now. I am asking Cavan County Council to actively look for a workable solution to support Bailieborough Swimming and Leisure Centre to help them re-open their doors.”

Sinn Fein's Paddy McDonald also spoke at length about how he had engaged with the pool's BOM.

He said that the funds had are “now fully depleted” and that it has “no means” to continue to finance the cost of running the facility.

“The Board of Management have some very difficult decisions to take in the coming weeks on the future of the facility as every avenue is being exhausted to find a way to reopen safely. The BOM , as well as the community as a whole, want to see the building reopening as soon as possible. However there are significant challenges in achieving this aim.

“The board of the centre, as well as the management, have been working tirelessly since the announcement of the HSE guidelines relating to COVID-19 to try to find a way to reopen the centre.”

Also supporting the motion were Clifford Kelly (FF), Carmel Brady (FG), and Aiden Fitzpatrick (FF), the latter who implored the Council “take action.”

“It's too late in a month's time, action has to be taken now,” said Cllr Fitzpatrick, who spoke of how his own daughters trained to be lifeguards at the centre.

He also asked if the Council could “take in charge” the facility for a period, at least just until the worst of the present restrictions had passed.

Others to support the motion included Val Smith (FG), TP O'Reilly (FG), Patricia Walsh (FF), Madeleine Argue (FG), Peter McVitty (FG), Shane P O'Reilly (Ind) and Brendan Fay (Ind).

Cllr Argue suggested that, had the Council raised the Local Property Tax last year, there may have been more money available to give the centre.

Responding, Mr Jennings said that the local authority would continue to work with the centre's BOM to try and find solutions to their present financial predicament, but drew short of saying the Council would take a controlling stake.