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Dragon Boat Fest aims to raise 100K for Water Sports Centre

“That building is going to allow us to expand the programs, improve the programs and diversify the programs that the partner clubs are offering,” said Thomas Merritt, the Northern Water Sports Centre's chair.
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Thomas Merritt, chair of the Northern Water Sports Centre, says the defining of the centre's current space is that it's cramped. The new centre, expected to be completed by next spring, will expand the space by 50 per cent. Photo by Arron Pickard.
“That building is going to allow us to expand the programs, improve the programs and diversify the programs that the partner clubs are offering,” said Thomas Merritt, the Northern Water Sports Centre's chair.

Last year, the Sudbury Dragon Boat Festival was able to raise $70,000 to help build the Northern Water Sports Centre. This year, Merritt said, the goal is to raise $100,000.

The new centre, which is being constructed on Ramsey Lake, comes with a $4.2-million price tag.

Glencore kicked off the funding initiative with a $1-million donation.

The City of Greater Sudbury has set aside $600,000 for the centre, and the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation and FedNor have each donated $1 million.

So far, donations from small businesses and community members have added an additional $500,000 to the fundraising total.

Merritt said the larger space will expand opportunities for physical activity and social interactions in the community.
“The defining feature of the building we're in right now is that it's cramped,” he said.

Merritt oversees an accessible sport program for people with disabilities, but said wheelchair access at the current boathouse is limited.

The new building will be wheelchair accessible and will have an indoor training centre open year-round.

The possibility to run programs all year will be especially helpful for the rowing program for at-risk youth, Merritt said.

Many of the program's participants don't partake in any sports outside of rowing. In those cases, Merritt said, the youth miss out on chances to stay fit and socialize with their friends outside of the rowing season.

“I want that opportunity to be there for you year-round,” he said.

After rowing practice, program participants will be able to make dinner together in a shared common area that will be one of the new building's prominent features.

“They don't sit down and have a meal with their family because they don't have that kind of a family,” Merritt said about many of the at-risk youth he works with.

Saturday's Dragon Boat Festival is the perfect fit to cap off the fundraising efforts for the centre, Merritt said.

“One of the things we're facing in North America is that we're just not as active as our parents were,” he said. “An event that gets people out and puts 100,000 hours of exercise is fantastic.”

More than 50 boats – each with a 22-person team – will participate in the event, which is now in its 15th year.

Jonathan Migneault

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