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A valuable space, lost in litigation





For a decade, one of Winnipeg’s best gymnasiums has stood padlocked and vacant — a casualty of a legal dispute and bureaucratic red tape that’s long-plagued the Kapyong Barracks site — while local athletics groups struggle to find facilities for practices and competitions.

John Blacher, executive director of Volleyball Manitoba, used to drive north on Route 90 every morning on his way to work. The commute would take him past shuttered Lipsett Hall, standing alone in an empty field north of Grant Avenue, west of Kenaston Boulevard.

Seeing the building left to rot — and knowing the once-beautiful gym inside, with its high ceilings, hardwood floors, large change rooms and ample seating for fans — would make him sigh.

“Every time I drove past Lipsett Hall, I’d always shake my head, knowing that it was sitting empty when it could have been used for national team programming or community-based athletic programming. It was a really good facility, and we would have continued to use it,” Blacher said in a recent interview. “But it was lost when they closed the doors for good.

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For a decade, one of Winnipeg’s best gymnasiums has stood padlocked and vacant — a casualty of a legal dispute and bureaucratic red tape that’s long-plagued the Kapyong Barracks site — while local athletics groups struggle to find facilities for practices and competitions.

John Blacher, executive director of Volleyball Manitoba, used to drive north on Route 90 every morning on his way to work. The commute would take him past shuttered Lipsett Hall, standing alone in an empty field north of Grant Avenue, west of Kenaston Boulevard.

Seeing the building left to rot — and knowing the once-beautiful gym inside, with its high ceilings, hardwood floors, large change rooms and ample seating for fans — would make him sigh.

"Every time I drove past Lipsett Hall, I’d always shake my head, knowing that it was sitting empty when it could have been used for national team programming or community-based athletic programming. It was a really good facility, and we would have continued to use it," Blacher said in a recent interview. "But it was lost when they closed the doors for good.

"My understanding now is that it would be far from usable, in terms of what would be inside there after being boarded up over the years."

Lipsett Hall, located on the 160-acre site of the former Kapyong Barracks military base, reportedly had one of the best two-court volleyball gyms in the province. However, since 2008 — when the Canadian men’s volleyball team ditched Winnipeg for better digs in Quebec — the facility has been locked up and out of use.

The recreation centre that served the former Canadian Forces base was one of many casualties of the longstanding land dispute that ignited after troops cleared out for good in June 2004. Since then, millions of dollars have been spent on court proceedings, rumours about the site’s future have swirled, negotiations have limped forward and buildings such as Lipsett Hall have been left to deteriorate.

But that wasn’t for a lack of trying on the part of Volleyball Manitoba and Canadian Sport Centre Manitoba, according to Blacher, who said the organizations reached out to both the Department of National Defence and Crown corporation Canada Lands to see if the gym could remain open for use while the land dispute made its way through the courts.

Aside from a temporary deal struck by the military with the national men’s volleyball team, which saw Lipsett Hall used as a practice space, requests for access to the gym fell mainly on deaf ears.

"We did try to keep it open, because it’s really hit-and-miss in the city for some clubs. I know there was some frustration at that time and I think disappointment, as well. It was a good overflow facility for (the men’s national team) and I believe it was used quite a bit by the Winnipeg men’s league," Blacher said.

"For us, it was really just, ‘Open the door, we’ll use the gym and we’ll close the door on our way out.’ Although I’m sure there were other issues at play there. I know that groups would have stepped up in terms of maintenance and things like that, if we’d been allowed access. There were groups that would have helped with stuff of that nature."

The former base land was declared surplus and was to be sold by the federal Crown corporation Canada Lands Company for redevelopment, but the process was halted in 2007 after a lawsuit from Treaty 1 First Nations.

The drawn-out court battle was abandoned by former Harper government in 2015.

As the legal dispute dragged on, the buildings on the site were left largely untouched. While the military has conducted environmental assessments of the buildings, it remains unclear which — if any — could be saved. As it currently stands, there are no plans to salvage any of the buildings on the site.

The first batch to meet the wrecking ball was 18 nearby, military-owned housing units (not on the disputed Kapyong land) taken down in January.

It remains to be seen when Lipsett Hall will join them. Demolitions at the former base site have yet to start, but are expected to be complete by late 2019.

Winnipeg architect Brent Bellamy laments the buildings being torn down and the lack of public information around which properties could be saved. He said Lipsett Hall could have a number of possibilities for conversion into public or private use.

"I own those buildings as a taxpayer, so it would be great to know if they’re being used properly," Bellamy said.

While certain community-based athletics clubs still have an uphill battle when it comes to finding gyms to practice in, let alone facilities capable of handling larger tournaments, the construction of the Sport for Life Centre, as well as other facilities in the city, has helped ease that burden. Nonetheless, Blacher said, it was a shame and a waste of resources that a facility as good — and in-need — as Lipsett Hall was left to whither away.

"It was a facility that we used quite a bit as a sport, for a long time. For adult league, the men’s volleyball league used it regularly, eventually we used it for national team programming as well, even youth programming. People would have definitely continued to use it," he said. "Losing it was frustrating and disappointing.

"It was a relied-upon facility for us, and having that extra facility — especially in a city like Winnipeg — would have helped us a lot."

ryan.thorpe@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @rk_thorpe


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