Seniors group’s lawsuit alleges City of Winnipeg breached agreement on community centre

By | August 20, 2020

A Winnipeg seniors group is suing the City of Winnipeg, accusing it of trying to cut the organization out of a co-management agreement at an East Kildonan community club.

Good Neighbours Active Living Centre is asking a court to force the city to honour an agreement that it says was brokered by the city in July 2009, and gives both Good Neighbours and the Bronx Park Community Club equal authority to govern operations at Bronx Park Community Centre.

Good Neighbours says in July 2019, it received a unilateral notice from the city suggesting the seniors group would become a tenant or third-party user of the Henderson Highway facility, and would be required to lease space.

“Our agreement with the city was to co-manage this building,” John Feldsted, chair of the Good Neighbours Active Living Centre, said in a news release. “We would have never moved [into the community centre] without this promise.”

We hope to see a resolution out of court, but we are prepared to go there if necessary. – Good Neighbours president Bill deJong

Good Neighbours board president Bill deJong said paying a lease would force the non-profit organization to shut down within just two years.

“A lease would bankrupt us, but more importantly, it would be a breach of contract on the part of the city,” he said.

“We hope to see a resolution out of court, but we are prepared to go there if necessary.”

Bill deJong is board chair of the Good Neighbours Active Living Centre in Winnipeg. (Submitted by Good Neighbours Active Living Centre)

The statement of claim says the organization is seeking a court order declaring that a valid and enforceable agreement exists, and is also seeking unspecified damages from the city.

CBC News has requested comment from the city but has not heard back.

The allegations in the statement of claim have not been tested in court.

Good Neighbours Active Living Centre says it is the city’s largest senior centre, with more than 1,150 members. It offers programs and services for people 55 years and older, with operations partially funded by the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, membership fees and fundraising efforts.

Multi-generational facility

According to the statement of claim filed against the city on Thursday, Good Neighbours was previously operating out of a building at 755 Henderson Hwy.

But around 2002, the city approached the group and proposed relocating to Bronx Park Community Club, at 720 Henderson, which was set to undergo a multimillion-dollar renovation and expansion.

The proposal was that the seniors centre and the Bronx Park Community Club Inc. would occupy the facility simultaneously and govern it together, “while each maintaining their own organizational autonomy,” the statement of claim says.

The city conducted a feasibility study on making Bronx Park an integrated, multi-generational facility.

Bronx Park Community Centre on Henderson Highway. (Google Street View)

The results of that, which came back in September 2004, determined a joint-use facility would be beneficial to the community, according to the statement of claim, which says the city then approved the re-construction plan for the facility.

“The original concept was to have Bronx Park become a model of public-private partnership where two community organizations could offer programming for all ages under one roof,” Good Neighbours said in a news release.

“It was heralded by the mayor and council of the day as a way to make better, more efficient use of city-owned facilities.”

Partnership unclear

In July 2006, city council’s executive policy committee announced the formation of a joint-governance model. In June 2009, just prior to the renovated facility’s reopening, then-Mayor Sam Katz re-emphasized the partnership, according to the statement of claim.

Between 2009 and 2014, no formal written agreement ever existed recognizing the partnership, but Good Neighbours believed a binding agreement had been reached based on the public pronouncements.

From September 2009 to July 2011, a facility manager responsible for the day-to-day operations at the community club received direction and supervision from the management board, which included representatives from Good Neighbours.

Still, the group wanted something in writing and made repeated requests to the city, according to the statement of claim. In May 2014, a formal joint-use agreement was created and became effective in September that year.

Breach of agreement alleged

The relationship ran smoothly until Good Neighbours Active Living Centre received the notice suggesting it become a tenant at the community centre in 2019.

“The city knew or ought to have known that GNALC was not, nor has it ever been, a tenant or third-party user of the facility and that it was agreed upon that [Good Neighbours] would be a co-equal partner,” the statement of claim says.

“The original co-management relationship agreement has never been fully implemented,” Good Neighbours said in its news release.

“Instead, the city has proposed cutting Good Neighbours out of the management of the facility entirely.”

“We have tried to negotiate and co-operate in good faith for more than a decade,” said Feldsted.

“It looks to us that the city administration has forgotten the promises it made. We are appealing to Mayor Brian Bowman and city council to honour our agreement.”

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