ONE of Ards and North Downs major leisure centres has closed indefinitely until the completion of extensive repairs.
The sports hall at Portaferry sports centre has been closed for several months because of concerns about the floor but last week the doors closed completely after investigations revealed that necessary repair work was much greater than initially thought.
The decision has been described by a local councillor as the worst possible outcome for the Portaferry community.
It is not known when the centre will re-open and in the meantime users have been told they can use other council leisure facilities across the borough, free of charge.
The sports complex is jointly run by Ards and North Down Council, which administers activities in the centre outside school hours, and St Columba’s College, whose students use the complex during school hours.
The hall in the popular Cloughey Road leisure facility was closed down in late June after a ‘vein-like’ crack was found on the floor surface, but the remainder of the building was left open allowing a limited schedule of activities to continue for users.
However, following an inspection on Wednesday by the company that laid the floor, it was discovered that the structure below the floor needs to be completely replaced.
At a meeting of the council’s Community and Wellbeing Committee the director of leisure services, Ian O’Neill, explained repairs were much more extensive than initially thought.
Mr O’Neill said ‘the floor structure has actually failed and it’s not the plastic part of the floor, it is below that and that it needs dug up and replaced’.
He also said the inspection ‘may also suggest that there are issues throughout the building’ but that was not elaborated upon.
The closure news follows a summer of confusion surrounding who was responsible for the repairs to the building, with councillor Joe Boyle stating it was like ‘being bounced from pillar to post’.
He said, in late August, that there was ‘an ongoing situation’ involving the council and the Education Authority, which both stressed they were not responsible for the repairs. The Council for Catholic Maintained Schools also denied having responsibility for the repairs.
It was also learned that the Department of Education has responsibility for the ‘overall site’ but not the building itself.
At Wednesday’s committee meeting Mr O’Neill was able to shed some light on the matter.
He revealed that the amenity is managed by the St MacNissi’s Educational Trust and that the school is now pressing ahead with plans to repair the floor.
A council spokesman said on Tuesday that the ‘screed’ or plastic top layer of the flooring was subject of concern, and that ‘we do not currently have a date for re-opening, but members will be kept updated via email’.
Mr Boyle said the news marks his ‘worst fears being realised’, and though people will be able to use other leisure services for free, including those in Ards, Kiltonga and Comber, it will be inconvenient for many.
“This is not an ideal situation as it now involves a 40-mile round trip to avail of such facilities,” said Mr Boyle.
“The Portaferry Sports Centre was hard fought for within the legacy Ards Council area as the council then was questioned on their provision of leisure facilities beingg all stacked at one end of the then Ards Borough, involving Comber, Ards and Kiltonga.
“Something had to change and therefore after much discussion and input from various organisations the schools by day, communities by night agreement was reached.
“This is the worst situation and possible outcome for the community,” he said.
He said local people had faced a summer of uncertainty in which they have been denied the chance of holding birthday parties and similar events, while being left dangling over when these might resume.
“This news couldn’t have come at a worse time, with all schools back and into their new year. Groups and organisations have now been prohibited from usage during the winter months, children’s birthday parties are all now being cancelled and of course the regular gym users are also being impacted upon with no operating facility.
“This is an absolute mess and could potentially involve the Portaferry Sports Centre being out of commission for a significant period of time,” he continued.
“Whilst the council are onboard to deliver a facility at the location they do not actually own the building. I understand that the Trust involved, along with the Education Authority, is where some fast talking and funding needs to be secured and delivered upon,” he said.
“It is critically important that those who need to address this problem step up and step out to deliver the necessary improvements required without any unnecessary delays.”