The city of Montreal is urging the Saint-Léonard borough to find a solution to keep a popular soccer field open for young players this winter after the borough recently announced it would be closed.
The call came after nearly 200 children, parents and coaches demonstrated in front of Montreal city hall during a city council meeting Monday evening to express their disappointment about the Hébert Soccer Stadium.
For the past 15 years, the borough has installed a temporary dome over the field, allowing an estimated 700 young players to use the facilities throughout the winter months.
However, earlier this month, the borough said it cannot afford to set up the structure this year, citing skyrocketing costs.
“Costs for assembling and dismantling [the dome] have risen from $290,000 to $464,000 this year, an increase of 60 per cent,” said Dominic Perri, city councillor for the Saint-Léonard-Ouest district.
“On top of that, it costs $150,000 a year for heating. Saint-Léonard can no longer afford it.”
The city of Montreal, however, is asking that the borough find a way to keep the field open.
“We want to support the young people of Saint-Léonard and the entire east end of Montreal,” said Caroline Bourgeois, executive committee vice-chairperson responsible for sports and recreation.
“But right now, we can’t deprive a local population that has no other options. That’s why I’m asking Saint-Léonard to reconsider its decision.”
Both the city and protesters criticized the borough Monday for making its decision without prior notice.
Sam Macri, treasurer of the Saint-Léonard Soccer Association, says the negative impact of the borough’s decision outweighs the actual added cost, which is roughly $175,000.
“You can’t let 700 kids go without playing for that amount,” he said.
Macri said city officials met with the protesters Monday evening and said they would work together to find a solution.
“We’re happy about that, but it’s politics,” he said.
Finding a permanent solution
In previous years, installation of the dome began in mid-November so that the Hébert stadium could be used by the end of the month.
The city and the borough have yet to reach an agreement on assembling the dome by November, but both have talked long-term solutions.
For the borough, that involves the city of Montreal taking on the costs.
“The city must assume its responsibilities because this is a regional dome, where the majority of players come from the east end of Montreal, not just from Saint-Léonard,” said Perri.
“It would be very unfair to charge Saint-Léonard taxpayers for a dome with a regional scope. We’ve done it in the past, but now it’s no longer possible. The solution is a permanent dome.”
For its part, the city says it has already put money in its budget for a permanent dome project. Now that costs have increased, it’s looking at what it can do to increase funding.
However, in the short term, the city maintains the responsibility of the dome falls on the borough.
“We need to give ourselves time to work. We can’t just cut services like that,” said Bourgeois of the situation for this winter.
“Installing a permanent dome could take two to three years. We can’t stop the kids from playing in the meantime. They have to be able to continue practising under the dome as they have been doing for years.”