Published: 18:04, 30 June 2020
| Updated: 18:50, 30 June 2020
One of the county's busiest leisure centres will remain closed for a year due to a £6.5 million refurbishment.
The Stour Centre in Station Approach, Ashford, is getting a multi-million pound revamp with new facilities and an extended gym.
The works will see a new soft play area, a climbing area and café added to the site, which underwent a £17m revamp in the mid-2000s.
Also being improved is the reception and seating areas, while new leisure pool features targeted at younger children will be added.
Major redecoration will also be completed throughout the centre, including the dry and wet changing areas.
Cllr Matthew Forest, portfolio holder for culture, tourism and leisure at Ashford Borough Council (ABC), said: “As the borough continues to grow, we feel passionately that our leisure offer must evolve to meet demand and expectation and ensure Ashford remains active.
“The complete closure of the Stour Centre enables substantial works to be finished much, much sooner, rather than a drawn out programme of disruption for contractors and more importantly the public.
"It takes advantage of what is an uncertain and potentially restrictive use of the facilities for groups, members and customers, given the continued pressure of managing Covid-19.
"We will be contacting regular user groups to support them find alternative facilities where possible.
“Sadly the closure does mean redundancies for Ashford Leisure Trust (ALT) staff, which is very unfortunate.
"However, some staff will be redeployed to provide fitness sessions at Julie Rose Stadium, which will be expanding its activities and gym facilities on offer to help lessen the impact.”
The centre will close for about a year until mid-2021, subject to permission being granted at a Thursday, July 16 council meeting.
Without closing the centre the works were expected to take around nine months longer, with disruption throughout this period until March 2022.
Following a search for a new leisure operator last year, ABC and Ashford Leisure Trust (ALT) 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 September 1.
As part of the new arrangements ALT will step back from the future management and will now focus its time on improving the health and wellbeing of the residents of Ashford, with a particular focus on those who are in disadvantaged groups or with health challenges.
Freedom Leisure is a not-for-profit leisure trust which manages leisure and cultural facilities on behalf of partners across the UK.
Freedom Leisure Managing Director Ivan Horsfall Turner said: “We are exciting to be working in partnership with Ashford Borough Council on this fantastic £6.5 million project to transform the Stour Centre. Getting started early will accelerate the reopening of the centre to provide a vastly improved leisure facility.”