Land largesse in Bay Roberts
Eric Jerrett donates land for proposed new recreation facility
A proposal to build a new recreation centre in Bay Roberts has received a significant boost in the form of a major donation from a local businessman who is well known for his generosity and volunteer pursuits.
Eric Jerrett confirmed recently that he has agreed to donate up to three acres of land to the town. Estimates vary greatly on the value of the donation, ranging anywhere from $150,000 to $400,000 for the prime piece of acreage, which is situated off Track Road, directly behind Amalgamated Academy.
Town officials had identified the site as its preferred location for the proposed facility, since it is within walking distance of two major schools and the Wilbur Sparkes outdoor recreation complex.
Deputy Mayor Philip Wood approached Jerrett with the idea of donating the land, and Jerrett agreed.
“ This moves it along greatly,” Coun. Walter Yetman, liaison with the town’s recreation department, said recently.
“ We have something to work with now because the major issue before was site selection.”
So why would Jerrett donate such a valuable piece of property? To answer that question, we need to go back more than 40 years.
Jerrett was instrumental in the construction of the Bay Roberts swimming pool in the late 1960s. He was a member of the Lions Club at the time and recognized the need for such a facility.
Jerrett is an engineer and architect, and agreed to lead the design and construction of the pool – at no cost – on behalf of the Lions Club. He was also a school board trustee and convinced the board to make land available next to Ascension Collegiate for the pool.
Several years later, Bay Roberts became the first town outside of larger centres such as St. John’s, Gander, Grand Falls and Corner Brook to have an enclosed, heated public swimming pool.
Jerrett and others even signed personal bank loans in order to come up with the money for the project. There were walkathons and other fundraisers, and the provincial government also chipped in with money.
“I’m one of the few left that really knows the full history of the existing pool,” he said.
Successful in business
The centerpiece of the proposed new facility is a swimming pool, which means the existing facility, which now only operates in the summer, would close. Jerrett felt it made sense for him to step forward once again and help out.
He was motivated four decades ago by his two young children, and a lack of options for swimming in the town. Today, he has different motives.
He’s been very successful in business, having owned and managed an architectural, engineering and land-surveying firm for more than 40 years. He was the engineering consultant for the Town of Bay Roberts for a decade, during what he jokingly refers to as the “nitty-gritty days.”
His firm designed many schools in the province, including Ascension and Amalgamated, and at least 10 enclosed swimming pools.
Jerrett also has a variety of real estate holdings, including about 20 acres of undeveloped land between the Conception Bay Highway, Barracks Road and Track Road.
He had plans to subdivide the land into a 34-lot residential subdivision, but will now modify those plans in order to accommodate the recreation facility. And with talk of a new school being built in the near future to replace Coley’s Point Primary, Jerrett suggested that it could be built adjacent to the pool.
“ This is the right place to put that school,” he said, adding that three large schools would be within a short distance of each other.
Jerrett said he is pleased to help the proposed project move along.
“I played such a role in getting this swimming pool there. Now it’s outdated, and there’s a bigger need now for a pool than it was then,” he told The Compass recently.
“ Our population has grown and people are more recreation-minded then they were. So there’s a greater need for a new, modern pool.”
The town commissioned a study two years ago into the feasibility of constructing a new multipurpose facility. It found the town could support an indoor pool, a large hall/gymnasium for sports and performances, over 5,000 square feet of additional multi-purpose space and space for tenants, if appropriate.
A walking track was the No. 1 priority for those surveyed for the study.
The consultants put the estimated cost of the project at $20 million, but town officials have indicated that a phased approach may be the preferred option.
The town council gave approval in principle to the land donation at its March 22 meeting, and a steering committee is expected to once again kickstart the planning process, said Coun. Yetman.
“ We see a very important need in our community. The public is telling us that too,” Yetman said.
The town will require financial help from other levels of government, but no commitments have yet been made.
Jerrett emphasized that he’s not looking for praise or publicity, and initially thought about keeping the donation a private matter between him and the town council.
“I would prefer that my actions not detract from the town’s plans for the future. That is the real news that needs reporting,” he said.
It’s been indicated to Jerrett that he might get naming privileges for the facility, but he did not make that a condition of the agreement. His only condition is that the land be used specifically for the recreation centre.