Mystery over why €3 million community centre has stayed shut

Ballinfoile Neighbourhood Centre: completed but closed.

Yet another deadline has been missed in the puzzling saga to open Ballinfoile Community Centre as the newly built, desperately needed facility enters its third year next month without opening.

The project was first tendered for in October 2011 but took years to finally build following a protracted process to secure a contractor and the €3m in finance.

At a public meeting on May 9 in the Menlo Park Hotel, a Galway City Council representative gave an assurance that a management agreement would be signed and delivered to SCULL Enterprises within five to seven days.

Five weeks on the contracts have still not surfaced, according to the CEO of SCCUL Enterprises, Michael Smyth.

The centre is to be managed by Croí na Tuath – a local advisory board made up of community bodies and clubs – in conjunction with SCCUL Enterprises, a registered charity that runs the Ballybane Enterprise Centre, and Galway City Council.

At the same meeting Mr Smyth outlined that “worst case scenario” the centre would open in late August. That time was needed for the advertising of jobs, the interview process and the eventual employment and training of a suitable team of people to run the centre.

But that timeframe was conditional on receiving the signed management and licensing agreements from Galway City Council.

“I received a call on Friday to say I’d have it in the not-to-distant future – I was given a date by the end of this week – but I’m not resting my hat on it,” he sighed.

Local campaigner Brendan Smith, who was recently awarded Galway City Council Volunteer of the Year, said there was a deep sense of betrayal and anger among local residents that the centre remains closed, two years after completion and 13 months after it was officially opened by the then mayor Cllr Frank Fahy.

“As someone that actively campaigned for this facility from 1987 until late 2016, I am shocked that our area still cannot benefit from a facility that residents have directly paid for since the first housing estates were built nearly 40 years ago,” he stated.

“At this stage, there is no reason that I know of why there should be delays by the Council’s solicitor in agreeing to have the contract signed. If it does not happen soon, I feel that this represents a breakage of trust with the Ballinfoile/Castlegar community and that a protest and lobbying campaign may need to be immediately reactivated and brought to a national level.”

Independent Councillor Mike Cubbard said the Council is guilty of disgraceful treatment towards community groups and local councillors.

“Yet again another summer is about to pass with the residents and community groups in the Ballinfoile/Castlegar and wider Headford Road area left in limbo as to when their centre will open – this is not good enough and I will not accept being kept in the dark on this any further,” he fumed.

“It is completely unacceptable that initial guarantees of the centre opening in December 2016 were not met, followed by a further guarantee of May 2017. Further to this I asked for regular updates to be sent to elected members, this has also failed to transpire so we are all being kept in the dark.

“I am now asking for a full briefing to be given at the meeting of Galway City Council on June 19 and answers be given as to why these continued delays are occurring.”

Locals understand that the constant delays in finalising the agreements are the result of a lack of senior staff in City Hall.

New traffic lights have been erected at the entrance to the centre to ensure pedestrian safety. These will be operational once the centre is open. Galway City Council committed €100,000 in this year’s budget for the running of the centre.