ALREADY having their programmes disrupted by Carnival activities, sporting organisations which call Skinner Park, San Fernando their home will have to move out on Ash Wednesday.
The organisations have been issued with a letter from CEO of the San Fernando City Corporation Indarjit Singh informing them the Park will be closed on March 6 to facilitate an upgrade for the next 18 months.
While they have no issue with the long overdue upgrade, they are peeved by the lack of consultation and the fact that they are being forced out without any alternative arrangements in place to accommodate them.
President of San Fernando Tennis Association Anthony Cook said, “The Park provides facilities for tennis, football, basketball, netball, cycling, badminton, volleyball and other recreational purposes. Fitness programmes are being run in the Park. If the whole thing is to be shut down, that would be really unfair to us because we have not been provided with any alternative.”
Cook said there was no consultation before the sporting groups received their letters.
He said, “Nobody has met with us. No consultation has taken place to tell us, ‘This is the plan’, or, ‘We need some input.’ I would think the logical thing to have done is to get input from the stakeholders in the Park. You just can’t come and break down this or do this or that without consulting.”
Cook said tennis is the sport that would suffer the most as there are no available tennis courts in the south region since Petrotrin closed its doors.
He said, “If these courts are closed down for 18 months, it would mean there would be no tennis at all in the south of TT. This will affect the national body because the national body is made up of zones and the south zone would have no representatives. So, this would impact not only local tennis but our national tennis.”
Having worked with the Ministry of Sport as a tennis instructor, Cook said sport is a valuable tool in the fight against crime.
“We don’t want to see crime levels go up. We would really like to have a facility where we can harness the youths of the south land and have them doing something positive, rather than have them liming at the street corners,” he said.
Finance Minister Colm Imbert first spoke of the project, to be undertaken by the Urban Development Corporation of TT (UDECOTT) in his 2019 budget speech, but the organisations said the only communication received was the January 29 letter from Singh.
“What does this mean, that we have to vacate these premises before March 6?” president of the Southern Football Association (SFA) Richard Quan Chan asked incredulously.
“The SFA would like to state clearly that we have no objection to any enhancement of the Park, but we should be in a position to have an input as to what is going to take place. We have two weeks to clear out of this office. Look around,” he said, pointing to the many trophies, documents, sporting gears and other items on shelves and in storage, “We have been here for over 50 years, where are we going to store these things?
“Nobody from the city, nobody from Udecott saw it fit to come and say this is going to happen, what assistance they can lend to the SFA to manage football in the south. And when I say south, I don’t mean San Fernando; we manage football from this office from Moruga to Icacos and now you want to tell us we must go under a street light. This is crazy. They are basically kicking us out of the Park.”
He said the said the Manny Ramjohn facilities is not an alternative as its lights are only good to "host a dinner – candle lights”.
Netball player and coach Wilma Hamlet said coaches students from San Fernando Central Secondary (Mod Sec) and Open Bible Secondary from Monday to Friday in Skinner Park.
She said, “If the Park is closed, these children will have no place to train because there are no courts in their schools.”
President of San Fernando Netball League Sherry Ann Blackburn said the manner in which they have been notified about the Park’s closure was not in keeping with best practice.
Responding to their complaints, Singh denied his letter was an “eviction notice”.
San Fernando Mayor Junia Regrello said arrangements would be made to have dialogue with the stakeholders.
He said the councillor responsible was supposed to have met with stakeholders and bring them up-to-date with the development, but apparently this did not happen.