Norfolk County has secured a site for what could be one of the most important single investments in the community’s history.

After a rigorous evaluation process, Norfolk has selected a 24-acre property – at the corner of Ireland Road and Decou Road, just east of downtown Simcoe – as the future home of the ALL Norfolk Community Centre.

The site is adjacent to the Fanshawe College campus, has easy access to the Norfolk County trail system, and will be linked to Simcoe’s downtown area, aiding in the area’s continued revitalization.

The proposed community and recreational centre (which is contingent on provincial-federal funding) would include two arenas, an eight-lane, 50-metre pool, a 15,000-square-foot seniors space, a community kitchen and an innovation centre.

Other options under consideration include a gymnasium and an indoor soccer pitch.

“We need to think differently about our recreational and educational experiences,” said Norfolk County Mayor Kristal Chopp. “We need to build something bold and innovative. A place that brings out the best in Norfolk’s many creative, talented residents, and helps them live their best lives. The ALL Norfolk Community Centre will be just that: a sustainable, universally-accessible place that will serve the diverse needs of all residents, regardless of age or ability. I’m very excited that we’ve taken this important step toward making it a reality.”

The property was the top-ranked site by the Recreational Facilities Advisory Board, which developed extensive criteria to evaluate potential locations and make recommendations to Council.

The advisory board includes members of the public with backgrounds in everything from engineering to finance. It also includes the Mayor and four councillors.

The group considered access to major travel corridors, road capacity and traffic safety issues, availability of necessary infrastructure, capacity for future expansion, access to trails, potential for parking and more in order to rank more than a dozen sites.

The Ireland Road site came out on top for a number of reasons, including its close proximity to the Fanshawe College campus.

“Norfolk County is home to two post-secondary sites, and that allows us to see first-hand the evolution of education – for instance, the shift toward experiential learning and advanced research,” said Chopp, referring to Fanshawe as well as the University of Guelph’s Simcoe Research Station. “From the development of culinary skills in the community kitchen to the exchange of ideas in the innovation centre, the possibilities for collaboration that a new community and recreational centre presents are endless.”

“We’re so excited to see this innovative, community-building project moving forward,” said Donna Gates, Associate Dean and Chair of the Fanshawe College Simcoe/Norfolk Regional Campus. “Its close proximity to campus would have a profound impact on students, giving them access to world-class facilities (for both learning and recreation) while at the same time connecting them to the vibrant Norfolk County community. Fanshawe College is proud to be a supporter of the ALL Norfolk Community Centre project.”

The building of the ALL Norfolk Community Centre would also play a key role in youth retention and attraction in the community, a priority identified in Council’s strategic planning process earlier this year.

The facility – needed to replace some of the County’s aging recreational infrastructure and end the “Band-Aid” practice of yearly repairs – would be built to exacting sustainability and accessibility design guidelines.