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Healthy Heart program needs a new home in New Westminster

The YMCA's cardiovascular rehab program, which has been running since 1976, is caught in the space crunch caused by closure of the Canada Games Pool
Treadmill walking
The Healthy Heart cardiovascular rehab program needs a new space for its fitness equipment and programming after being displaced from Centennial Community Centre.

The ripple effects around the fate of the Canada Games Pool are circulating further across New Westminster, as longtime program participants in a cardiovascular rehab program grapple with the prospect of being displaced.

Participants in the YMCA’s longstanding Healthy Heart program were informed earlier this month that the program will be without a home in New West for the foreseeable future.

Equipment from the soon-to-be decommissioned pool will be moved to the Centennial Community Centre, which forces the Healthy Hearts programming gear – treadmills, rowing machines and exercise bikes – into storage.

Though suspended in March 2020, in-person classes will likely have to move elsewhere when they resume as well. A copy of the letter circulated to Healthy Hearts members was shared with the Record and suggested that at best, the program may move into the təməsew̓txʷ Aquatic and Community Centre when it opens in late 2023.

Samantha Hartley-Folz is the acting general manager of community operations for the YMCA of Greater Vancouver. She told the Record in a phone interview Dec. 6 that storage space has been secured for the equipment, though where the program could end up once in-person activities resume remains up in the air.

“There’s a possibility that we may not have access to the space at the [Centennial] community centre to run our Healthy Heart programming once our in-person sessions resume,” she said. “There is no final word on that.”

The news comes just days after Fitness New West participants were told they’ll be left in a similar lurch due to the crunch for available space. That programming has been in place since 1983 and an online petition has been launched to allow participants to remain in their longtime home at Centennial.

On Nov. 24, the city announced that it will decommission the Canada Games Pool rather than repair a leak in the pool’s tank. A city press release stated that fitness equipment from Canada Games Pool would be relocated to the gymnasium at Centennial, and gym programs that normally take place at that site will be relocated to other recreation and community facilities.

Healthy Heart programming began in 1976, and classes were in place in New West from the outset. Though available to all ages, participants tend to be seniors managing chronic diseases, including congestive heart failure, heart disease and diabetes, while preventing cardiovascular disease and future risk factors.

The program helps participants transition back to active living after open heart surgery, heart attack and stents.

Pre-COVID, the YMCA Healthy Heart program was providing in-person programming to 275 participants in five locations in Metro Vancouver, with more than 75 participants at the Centennial location. Since August 2020, the program moved into the virtual realm and supported 133 participants.

Dean Gibson, the city’s director of parks and recreation, told the Record in an email that the city is working with the YMCA to find a new venue somewhere within the city limits. 

He noted that the YMCA booked the Centennial space from late 2005 through to November 2019 at a discounted rental rate and with complimentary space for program equipment to be stored.

“The New Westminster parks and recreation department has stated that we value the ongoing relationship with the YMCA and the Healthy Heart program and when the time is appropriate to resume this program in New Westminster, we want to do all that we can to help secure a suitable venue,” Gibson said.

For her part, Hartley-Folz holds no ill will towards the city and instead praised the efforts of staff to help find a new location within the city. It’s her hope that some form of hybrid classes – combining both online and in-person – will be up and running somewhere in New West by February 2022.

Virtual classes remain unaffected in the meantime.

“We know how crunched the city is for space, so it may be delayed,” Hartley-Folz said. “That’s why we continue to offer the Virtual Healthy Heart programming, so it’s accessible to folks around the Lower Mainland.”

– with files from Theresa McManus