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City could expand options for local warming centres

Staff will report on possibility of daytime warming centres on weekends
orillia recreation centre sign stock
A part of the Orillia Recreation Centre was opened as a warming centre Saturday but some city councillors say a more permanent solution is needed when daytime temperatures plummet.

City staff will look into the possibility of opening a daytime warming centre on weekends when an extreme cold weather alert is in place.

Councillors Jay Fallis and Pat Hehn introduced that motion at Monday’s council committee meeting.

An overnight warming centre is available at the Orillia Community Church when the temperature is -15 degrees Celsius or colder, but something needs to be provided on weekends during the day, Hehn said.

She noted the Orillia Recreation Centre served as a warming centre this past Saturday, but not on Sunday.

Coun. Mason Ainsworth supported the motion — to have staff report on options and potential costs — but said he expected the report would state an outside agency would be best to provide the service.

He pointed out the city provides funding to the County of Simcoe and other groups for social services.

There were questions about the intention of the councillors’ motion and whether it was a short- or long-term plan they were looking for.

Fallis said he wanted to ensure a plan is in place, even for next year, in case COVID-19 is still prompting restrictions on city facilities.

He wants a place to be available for people to go seven days a week, regardless of the temperature.

With facilities like the Orillia Recreation Centre being closed for public use, it makes the situation challenging, said chief administrative officer Gayle Jackson.

Because of the expected cold temperatures on the weekend, an area of the rec centre was opened as a warming centre on Saturday, she said.

If more cold weather alerts are issued by the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, the city will be able to open the rec centre again to allow people to “go in, get warm and move along,” Jackson said, adding the hours would likely be 8 or 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

If the goal was to create a long-term plan, Coun. Ralph Cipolla suggested the matter be referred to budget talks for 2023.

“Staff has responded quite nicely to this year’s cold weather,” he said.

The majority of council committee supported the motion, and staff will report back no later than Feb. 7.