Portlaoise Leisure Centre would have needed at least €300,000 just to stay open until Christmas – and the voluntary board of directors could have been liable for “reckless trading” had they opted to continue operating.
The board that run the Leisure Centre toook decision this week to close the facility and go into liquidation, after Laois County Council were unable to come up with the money to keep it open. In all, 30 jobs at the facility have been lost.
Laois County Council developed and own the facility but an independent board are responsible for running it.
Staff were told at a meeting on Monday evening. Director of Services for Laois County Council Simon Walton said that they are working to “identify a suitable entity to come in and operate it”.
“People are saddened and angered at its closure,” he accepted, “but a decision had to be taken.” He insisted, however, that the council are “acting immediately … so it can be a viable entity going forward” and that “yesterday’s announcement does not mean it is closed for good”.
The facility, which was developed by Laois County Council in 2008 and run by board since 2012, was running at a considerable loss prior to the Coronavirus outbreak.
While being closed for over three months and being unable to operate anywhere close to full capacity for the foreseeable future meant that it would be incurring huge costs going forward, with very little income.
In addition, a considerable portion of its income is from schools coming for swimming – but that business would be almost completely wiped out over the next couple of months.
As well as that, its membership has fallen considerably since the arrival of Ben Dunne Gyms to Portlaoise last year.
A meeting of Portlaoise Municipal District in Laois County Council heard this morning from Cllr Noel Tuohy, who is on the board, that numerous requests for financial support were unsuccessful.
“The council doesn’t have the money nor does the government,” he said. “We were told we would be guilty of reckless trading if we continued.
“It’s a sad day for the town and for the county,” he added. “It’s a very important facility and will be a huge loss.”
Cllr Thomasina Connell and Cllr Catherine Fitzgerald, who are the other two council members on the board, also addressed the issue.
“The leisure centre is extremely expensive to run,” said Cllr Connell. “And there is no opportunity to trade out of it (in the current circumstances.)”
“As a councillor, I will be doing everything in my power to get it to re-open. It’s extremely important to the town.”
Referencing the significant commentary on social media, she questioned “are people in this community serious about supporting a local facility?”
“Of all the people commenting, how many have been through the doors in the past 12 months?”
She added that it was “distressing and upsetting” informing the staff of the decision and like the rest of the councillors expressed her sypmathy with those who have lost their jobs.
Cllr Fitzgerlad said that she had “serious concerns with the financial situation” since joining the board last July and that “Covid put the tin hat on it”.
“It’d be a crying shame not to re-open the pool,” she added. “We really have to work to get it re-opened as soon as possible.”
Cllr Caroline Dwane-Stanley hit out at the council for not backing the facility, and said “it was privatisation through the back door”
“The board of management tried to do their best with little or no thanks – but this is a cop out by the council. “It’s a disgrace that this was allowed to happen.”
Cllr Willie Aird said that while the ethos was always to keep prices affordable, it’s impossible to compete with the likes of Ben Dunne Gyms. “Loyalty is the only thing you are hoping for there,” he said.
“We as councillors cannot tolerate this as anything other than a temporary closure,” he said.
Cllr Mary Sweeney and Cllr John Joe Fennelly, who are representatives for the Portlaoise Municipal District but from Ballyroan and Abbeyleix respectively said they have been inundated with calls about its closure too and that it was a facility used by people from across the county.