The complete lack of community facilities in Johnstown has prompted locals to launch a petition calling on Meath County Council to purchase the former Energie gym building to develop as a community centre for the area.
Despite thousands of houses being built in Johnstown, communities feel badly let down that more than a decade on, they have still been left with no facilities.
The petition, available here, was set up by community activist Alan Lawes and volunteers are also going door-to-door gathering signatures. Within days, almost 1,000 signatures were collected.
Mr Lawes pointed out that there isn’t even a meeting room in the area and the only place they can hold a meeting is in a pub. He said the people of Johnstown desperately need this building to be the “heart” of the community and provide a much needed facility, particularly for local youngsters.
The building, which was originally a Jackie Skelly gym and then Energie, closed in 2015. The property will be auctioned online by Allsops on 23rd February and has a reserve of €365k-€385k.
Mr Lawes has described it as “once in a lifetime” opportunity to purchase a building in the centre of Johnstown. He said that even with the renovation costs, it would still cost far less than building a community centre on a greenfield site.
Alan Lawes viewing the building on Friday
“There are 3,000 homes in Johnstown estate and 10,000 people. They have now started building again at both sides of Johnstown, adding even more houses. Anti-social behaviour is an issue in the area. There is nothing for the kids to do.
“I’m also a director of Johnstown People’s Park. I would love to see the gym opened up as a community centre and see the pool filled in as a hall. I would love to see Johnstown FC come back into the area and have a football field in the park and showers and facilities in the gym building. The ABC boxing club is also looking for a permanent home.”
Last Friday, Mr Lawes viewed the building and said while he was not an engineer it seemed to be structurally sound,
The petition, addressed to Meath County Council and Meath county councillors states: “This is a once in a lifetime chance to turn a near derelict building and an eye sore based in the centre of the community into a badly needed community centre which all the residents of Johnstown can be proud of. We would ask that all Meath County Councillors from all parties and none would support this petition and urge the council to act urgently to secure the centre for the benefit of their constituents.”
Mr Lawes said Cllr Sinead Burke is to bring a motion to the next Navan Municipal District meeting calling on the council to purchase the building.
Cllr Tommy Reilly, while supportive of the campaign, has raised the issue of the high cost of the annual management fees. He said: “I had a motion some time ago calling on the council to purchase that building for a centre. It is needed so badly in Johnstown. So many houses were built and millions paid in taxes and millions paid to Meath County Council in levies and nothing has been done. It is disgraceful.”
“But the big problem with that building is there are €30,000 a year in management fees to be paid on it.
“I am fully supportive of anyone trying to purchase it, but you can’t expect the taxpayer to pay €30,000 a year in management fees for the building”. On the management fees issue, Mr Lawes said it would need to be addressed.
Jenny McHugh, Principal of St Stephen’s National School is also supporting the campaign. She said rather than writing to the Department of Education for clarification on the use of schools for community based activities, councillors would better serve their communities by advocating the council to do a deal on the former gym building in Johnstown.
“This would be a great building to be transformed into a Community Centre for the people of Johnstown. After all they deserve it because they paid plenty for their houses and were promised everything and got nothing.
“So now is the time for Meath County Council and Councillors to honour their commitment to the people of Johnstown and give them a community centre in the heart of their community.”