It was one year ago next week that residents of the small community of Thorndale, Ont., watched as their long-time community centre burned to the ground in a devastating early morning blaze.
The fire, which began around 2:30 a.m. on Feb. 24, 2020, tore through the decades-old Thorndale Lions Community Centre — described by one local politician as a hub of the community — rendering it a total loss.
Now, 12 months later, those same residents are marking the opening of its larger successor, constructed at the same Upper Queen Street site.
“Really, it’s kind of poetic that it comes up from the ashes of the fire,” said Kelly Elliott, deputy mayor of the Municipality of Thames Centre, which includes Thorndale.
“That was a huge hit to the community just because, especially in small communities, that community centre is really the hub of where everything happens in the community,” she said of the fire.
“It’s where people gather, it’s where all our social functions are. So really tying into that, and then the COVID global pandemic hitting, it was the perfect time to rebuild.”
Having broken ground last June, construction on the new facility was completed in roughly seven months at a cost of $2.8 million.
“The community fundraised just under $1 million for the community centre, and the Thorndale Lions have committed $250,000 towards the community centre, so they have the naming rights,” Elliott said.
Talks had been underway for several years to replace the ageing community centre, and construction of a new facility had already been tendered and awarded prior to the fire. Work had been set to begin in May 2020, the municipality says.
Built by London-based MCI Design-Build Corporation, the new Thorndale Lions Community Centre is roughly double the footprint of the old one and includes a spacious multiuse gymnasium, three large meeting rooms, change rooms, and other amenities.
Improvements at the Upper Queen Street address aren’t just limited to the new community centre building.
Construction is set to get underway in the coming months on a new outdoor field house that will have a concession stand, bathroom, and storage space, along with improvements to the baseball diamonds and soccer field, and the installation of new playground equipment.
“The project’s been awarded to MCI, who also built the community centre, and they’re ready to start once the weather turns,” Elliott said.
As a result of the pandemic — Thorndale, like the rest of Middlesex County, is under the red-control tier of the province’s colour-coded restrictions framework — operational changes are in place at the newly opened community centre for the time being.
“We do have the facility open daily from 7:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. for walking in the gym, and that is limited to 10 people. So essentially, if you come in, there’s 10 people, you have to wait until someone leaves,” Elliott said.
“We have some senior centre programming starting in there. I know pickleball has already been scheduled a few days a week and we’ll be adding more seniors programming into that. It’s open for rentals, but just following the COVID restrictions, the meeting rooms and the gym are limited to 10 people.”
As pandemic restrictions ease, more programming will be offered at the centre, which will also have a grand opening event at some point in the future.