Recreational facilities for children should be regarded as essential services and remain open during lockdowns, a Sarnia entrepreneur says.
And City Hall agrees.
Scott Burnett has gathered a petition with 2,700 signatures asking Ontario to classify dance studios, karate dojos, rinks and other youth facilities essential businesses
“It’s just frustrating,” said Burnett, owner of the Sarnia Super Ninja Obstacle Course Racing Club. “I don’t understand how something so important is being haphazardly taken away with very little thought.”
At a special meeting last week, Sarnia council passed a resolution calling on the Ford government to deem youth recreation programs an essential service.
Councillors also passed a second motion urging the province to help small businesses by restricting sales at big box retailers to essential products only.
“We should not create two classes of citizens and two classes of businesses,” said Coun. Bill Dennis.
“These giants are making all-time windfall profits while our small businesses are struggling to pay their bills,” he said.
“Main Street Ontario should be treated the same way as Bay Street.”
During the first provincial lockdown last year, Burnett was forced to close both Sarnia locations of his business, SupaNinja Lair, an acrobatics and obstacle course meant to physically challenge kids.
The doors remained closed for 125 days, losses approached $100,000, and a deal couldn’t be worked out with the landlord, Burnett said.
“My wife and children, who were 5 and 7 years old at the time, dismantled the two gyms,” he said of the gyms on Philip and Confederation Streets.
He found space at the Lochiel Kiwanis Centre and re-registered the business as a non-profit.
The club was very successful through November and December, at least until the province imposed the current lockdown, Burnett said.
The Super Ninja Obstacle Course Racing Club operated as though in a ‘red zone’ with sanitization between each session and just eight students allowed inside the 2,500-square-foot gym at a time. That’s eight times the space of Ontario school classroom guidelines of 30-square-feet per student, he said.
“There’s no cross-contact. So to me, in terms of pure reasoning and from a safety standpoint, it doesn’t make sense.”
The Lochiel Kiwanis board is currently working with Burnett one month at a time, relieving the stress of finding another location.
But the former youth worker said children are in need of recreational outlets and the physical activity so vital to their development.
“Nothing will come of it unless we make some noise,” he said.