Scarborough gets easier access to city recreation programs

City council voted “yes” to increase the number of Scarborough’s priority centres. At the new centres, the city is also giving free admission not only to children and seniors, but adults as well.

A priority centre is a recreation centre located in a neighbourhood where more than 30 per cent of the population lives under the low income cut-off (LICO). According to figures from Statistics Canada published in 2010, that figure is $42,065 for a family of four. To qualify for free access to priority centres, the family must apply for the city’s welcome policy.

Currently, Oakridge Community Recreation Centre, near Pharmacy and Danforth avenues, is the only priority centre operating in Scarborough. But by 2014, there will be nine more of them in Scarborough.

“It’s to ensure that we see a consistent distribution across the city,” Cheryl MacDonald, assistant manager of equity at Parks, Forestry and Recreation, said.

The city will designate nine locations in Scarborough starting mid-next year in order to refer the updated 2011 income statistics, MacDonald said. She projected the full-scale operation would begin in early 2014.

At the centres, all programs are free of charge for children and seniors. Since the launch of the program, the city offered free admission to adults as well, but in 2012 it changed. This year, the city budget tested out if adult fees work. MacDonald confirmed 62 per cent of adult users opted out this year due to the fees.

Fortunately, adults living under the LICO will not have to pay admission fees much longer, she added. The fee exemption is most likely to be implemented in July, she said, explaining that the city is waiting for the 2013 budget to be approved. The final decision would be made in mid-January.

“Priority centres have been working well to meet local needs. They’re to address financial barriers to participation that have high concentration of low income individual,” MacDonald said. “We also found out priority centre users live quite close to the centres, compared to those who access non-priority centres.”