Dovercourt at 25: a ‘pocket battleship’

Strong community-based philosophy — and financial support — among the secrets of the modest Westboro facility’s enduring success

Dovercourt Recreation Centre is more than a swimming pool, more than a daycare centre, more than an athletic facility and more than an arts centre. It is a financial success, a cornerstone of its community and this November, it will celebrate 25 years of outstanding service.

With its doors open from 6 a.m. until 10 p.m. most days, Dovercourt’s diverse programs range from dog swims, to Lego clubs, band camps and 135 weekly fitness classes.

“We have over 80,000 participants in swimming lessons, 30,000 recreational swimmers, 406 birthday parties, 725 children registered in dance programs and nearly 6,500 children registered in day camps,” says Rachel de Waard, manager of administration and communication.

All of this is done inside a tiny building in the centre of a sleepy Westboro neighbourhood.

“It is a pocket battleship,” says executive director John Rapp. “It is a very well-designed, powerful building, but it is little.”

The key to Dovercourt’s success is the community’s complete involvement in the institution, as owners and users.

Its board of directors was originally formed in 1977 and operated out of the old Westboro Community Centre — located on the site of today’s Dovercourt.

In 1987, the City of Ottawa planned to renovate the Westboro Centre, but locals no longer wanted the run-down building and asked for something that would better serve their needs.

They drove the city into a much bigger project than intended and the groundswell of support for a new building caused the then-director of recreation to realize that the solution was to fully involve the community in the process.

He wrote a service agreement that gave the board the power to operate the new centre with less city involvement and less funding, a set up Dovercourt has thrived under ever since.

“In 1987, the city funded almost 100 per cent of the operating budget — today they fund less than seven per cent of my operating budget,” says Rapp.

Dovercourt is located in the heart of a rapidly growing, double-income neighbourhood known for seeking quality and value. By successfully combining a community and corporate mentality Dovercourt is able to provide programs and services that are financially sustainable for the organization.

And every year, attendance has increased between

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“We are a charity, we have community development and altruistic goals, and we do that with $300,000 from the city,” says Rapp. “We then leverage that to a $4-million result by providing exactly what the community wants, at the calibre the community wants.”

In November, there will be a month-long celebration, consisting of awards nights and events aimed at giving thanks to the community.

And there are big changes to come: starting next year, Dovercourt will add a new $2.5-million, 3,000 square-foot fitness centre, and much of the rest of the building will be extensively renovated.

Meanwhile, Rapp says Dovercourt will continue to strive for excellence.

“It sounds strange, but the board and myself are hoping for more of the same,” he says.

“More of the same isn’t standing still — it just means that we continue to have growth, that we continue to have innovation and that we’re really responsive.”

Photo: Dovercourt Recreation Centre