Karen Kirkwood-Whyte: CK Election & Sports Interview

Below are the Chatham-Kent Election and sports interview responses for Ward 6, Chatham council candidate Karen Kirkwood-Whyte. Remember to vote October 22.

Name: Karen Kirkwood-Whyte

Hometown and Ward: Chatham (Ward 6)

What’s your sports/recreation background?

I played baseball as a teenager and was a member of the girls gymnastics team in high school. Vincent Massey High School was on Liberty Street in Windsor and we were known as the “Liberty Belles”! Decades later, golf is now my sport … and as I ease into retirement, I’m working on maintaining my 21 handicap.

What are your thoughts, or what value do you place in sports and recreation for the citizens of Chatham-Kent overall, and/or when showcasing Chatham-Kent to newcomers?

Having had a rather sedentary career for the past 40 years, my body knows the value of regular exercise – although I’m not currently practicing what I preach. Regular exercise – whether through golf, baseball, hockey or dance – is necessary to maintain positive health and avoid the problems associated with obesity and the diseases of aging.

One of the hot topics leading up to the election, and over the past decade has been a new twin pad arena for Chatham-Kent. Where do you stand on this? What thoughts do you have?

As a golfer, I have, admittedly, not been as focussed on the opportunities for community and economic development associated with the proposed recreational complex – which, I’m told, could include a twin pad arena, as well as other components such as a gymnasium, swimming pool, pickle ball and tennis courts, a library and soccer pitches.

While some might argue that we already have soccer fields, a swimming pool at the Chatham-Kent Family YMCA, an Olympic size ice rink at the St. Clair College Healthplex, a curling club, recreational facilities for seniors at the Active Lifestyle Centre and dozens of baseball diamonds throughout our communities, I have close friends and colleagues who are strong advocates for a new multi-functional facility – which would include a twin pad arena.

Memorial Arena was built in 1949 and has had some improvements over the years (and was home to many Girls Broomball Games as part of Red Feather Weekend activities!) Erickson Arena has limited seating. Both arenas need to be replaced according to people whom I have consulted.

Municipal Council has said that the only way they would proceed with a new Health and Sports Complex (which would include a twin pad arena), is if both federal and provincial levels of government contribute to its cost. That said, nothing has been proposed with regards to a Plan “B” if this funding is not available. Frustrated fans tell me that the current Council has been dealing with this issue since June 2015 and are now prepared to defer the matter to the incoming Council.

As time has now passed for decision-making on the matter, the reality is that fans visiting Memorial Arena will have to endure yet another hockey season with washroom facilities and dressing rooms that are far less welcoming and functional than those enjoyed in newer and much smaller neighbouring communities such as Leamington, LaSalle and St. Thomas.

Having spoken with some folks who care deeply about this issue, I am being told that enough studies have been done and the need is real. However, I would be open to further dialogue from local sports and recreation enthusiasts who would be willing to lend their expertise and input to determine the most appropriate seating capacity for a new facility. The costs associated with the construction, the sustainability and the best location for such a facility need to be determined before an application for funding can be completed.

If deemed a prudent investment, I believe such a multi-purpose facility could be a welcome addition to our community – to retain our local youth, to provide both recreation and volunteer opportunities for our retirees (like many in my age group!) and to enhance economic development through tourism.

Do you have any other ideas or plans that would impact health, wellness, sports, or recreation in Chatham-Kent, and specifically in your Ward?

I have talked with family members who are heavily engaged in baseball. I am impressed with the dedication and commitment invested in coaching – and the extensive volunteer time that is devoted to ensure that our local youth learn the value of exercise, healthy eating and good sportsmanship. Having been responsible (for many decades) for the prudent distribution of charitable donations in programs and services developed to enhance the spirit, mind and body, I know the value of such programs and the significant savings that can be generated when dollars are invested upstream in prevention rather than downstream in treatment.

Anything else you’d like to tell our readers and voters?

As representatives of the citizenry of Chatham-Kent, our local Municipal Councillors are responsible for determining the vision for a stronger, safer and more caring Chatham-Kent and for providing direction and support to the administrative team in developing strategies to achieve positive outcomes for everyone. For the past four decades I have served on both sides of the table. I know the difference between governance and operations … and the challenges that can arise when roles and responsibilities are not clear or understood. When it works, a mutually respectful partnership between Council and Administration can achieve significant results for the residents of our community. I’m looking forward to being part of that conversation.

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