Published: 06:19, 01 July 2020
| Updated: 06:57, 01 July 2020
More than 100 jobs could be lost if plans to shut a leisure centre for a year are agreed.
KentOnline revealed yesterday how council bosses in Ashford want to carry out a £6.5m refurbishment of the Stour Centre.
The facility – which opened in 1975 – underwent a £17m revamp in the mid-2000s, but Ashford Borough Council (ABC) now plans to start further improvements.
If its proposal is agreed at a meeting later this month, the centre would remain closed until mid-2021 to allow for the works.
In a statement released at 9pm yesterday, the Ashford Leisure Trust [ALT], which currently runs the site, said it is "really disappointing to receive such negative comments about ALT not informing their customers that the Stour Centre is closing".
"This is due to the fact that the decision to close the Stour Centre and consequently make approximately 115 members of staff redundant has NOT yet been confirmed," chief executive Emma Wood said.
"This proposal by ABC was agreed at the cabinet meeting on June 25 but has to be formally agreed at the council meeting on July 16.
"Until a decision is made at this meeting it would be entirely inappropriate to advise customers that the centre is closing and consequently the staff are being made redundant as the decision is currently unknown.
"We are in fact still consulting with staff and I plead with you for some sensitivity during this time.
"We have already been contacting customers to arrange refunds for services that we have been unable to deliver due to the closure as a result of Covid-19 and all memberships are frozen.
"We will advise on the next steps regarding these once a decision is known about the Stour Centre.
"I’d like to take this opportunity to thank our loyal customers over the years, you have helped make the centre such a success and I would also like to thank my fantastic team, you have all made a difference."
ABC says the £6.5m investment will "transform tired features" and "provide new spaces to boost participation".
The changes include a new soft play area, climbing area and café, as well as improved reception and seating areas.
Major redecoration will be completed throughout the facility, including the dry and wet changing areas, while new leisure pool features targeted at younger children are also planned.
ABC says without closing the centre, the works are expected to take about nine months longer, with disruption expected March 2022.
Following a search for a new leisure operator last year, ABC and Ashford Leisure Trust selected Freedom Leisure.
The operator will take over the day-to-day running of the Stour Centre, Julie Rose Stadium, Conningbrook Lakes and Spearpoint Recreation Ground pavilion, football pitches and tennis courts from ALT on September 1.