Published: 11:05, 23 April 2020
| Updated: 15:39, 23 April 2020
A leisure centre whose sports facilities are used by a secondary school and various clubs has confirmed it will not reopen after lockdown.
Trustees of Sandwich Sports and Leisure Centre have today announced they will not be renewing their 12-year contract with managing company Freedom Leisure in July.
It has since emerged that the adjacent Sandwich Technology School whose 1,400 pupils use the facility has been pursuing the idea of taking over ownership of the building for the past 18 months.
It comes after concerns were raised over the dilapidated state of the centre, particularly the safety of the sports hall floor which requires £55,000 worth of replacement works.
Chairman of the trustees Alan Noake said his committee were initially in agreement with the transfer but on the provision the school would agree to continued community use, indefinitely.
Head teacher Tracy Savage told KentOnline the school's proposal includes a new 10 year contract with Freedom Leisure.
However, she added, expectation to commit to community usage forever was both "unrealistic and unreasonable".
In a statement, chairman Alan Noake said: "Regrettably the Sandwich Sports and Leisure Centre will now not be able to re‑open immediately post-lockdown. It will remain closed until further notice.
"The trustees wish to publicly thank the Freedom Leisure staff who have been running the centre diligently on behalf of the trust for the last 12 years.
"However, for business reasons it is now not possible for the trust to renew the contract with Freedom Leisure which expires on July 22, 2020."
The centre is an independent charitable trust, owned by the trustees and managed by Freedom Leisure.
Mr Noake explained that the trust must seek permission from the Charity Commission for any transfer and this is ongoing.
He is expecting a response to their latest correspondence within the next 30 days.
He added: "Trustees are not being obstructive at all but if transfer to the school is the only way forward we would like some re-assurance for the community that they can carry on using it indefinitely.
"It's their centre.
"Trustees continue to remain 100% committed to their aims and objectives.
"Collectively they have given up many hard years of dedicated voluntary work for the benefit of the people of Sandwich, for Sandwich Technology School and for the surrounding community.
"The Trust are currently taking professional legal and Charity Commission advice to ensure the best outcome for the future of the centre and will issue another statement in due course when the situation is more certain."
Ms Savage withdrew the school's financial support and use of the facility in March and informed parents of the decision.
It meant PE lessons for pupils were cut from four classes to three per fortnight.
The school's business manager Andy Fisher has highlighted that if the school were to take over it would be able to apply to the Department for Education for funds to repair the dilapidations - money which cannot be accessed if privately owned.
Ms Savage said: "We are deeply sorry about how things have turned out – particularly for the community and the staff of Freedom Leisure.
“We have always had a very positive relationship with Freedom Leisure and we were very much looking forward to working directly with them under the terms of the proposal that we put forward to bring the Sandwich Sports and Leisure Centre back up to a standard that would have been both safe and pleasurable for all of our students and community to use.
"It is a great pity that things have not worked out that way.”
A spokesman from Freedom Leisure said: "Our contract at Sandwich finishes as of July 21 2020 and unfortunately arrangements are not in place for Freedom Leisure to continue operating the facility.
"A workable proposal was made to SSLCT for the transfer of the Leisure Centre to Sandwich Technology School, which was fully supported by Freedom Leisure and would have provided a better potential position for the future of this valued community facility.
"However it has been confirmed the contract will not be renewed, and unfortunately this means the centre will be closed from July 21 2020 unless another solution can be found.
"The service is currently suspended due to COVID 19, and Sandwich Leisure Centre customers are aware of what this means to them in terms of their previous usage.
"Freedom Leisure will not be opening the centre again to prior to 21 July 2020.
"We are expecting to be able to provide further information for our customers in May."
The centre was built in 1992 thanks to funding from a mixture of charitable grants, public money and fundraising.
It houses a gym, large sports hall and various studios and is used by clubs including Sandwich Boxing Club, Invicta Fencing Club and Sandwich IKK Karate.