By Carmel Hayes
A NEW deal has secured the future of St Mary’s sports hall in Portlaoise for local groups, at least for the next five years.
Portlaoise Panthers basketball club will have a leading role in the management of the hall on the Dublin Road, under a new agreement that has just been signed.
Last week’s meeting of Laois County Council agreed to lease land and buildings at St Mary’s sports hall to the newly formed Portlaoise Sports Hall Company Limited.
This lease will last for four years and 11 months and will cost the company just €100. The building had previously been under the management of the parish.
Laois County Council’s backing will see the hall run by the new company, with sports club members on the board.
Councillors approved a Section 183 notice at the January council meeting. The notice put forward by council officials was proposed by cathaoirleach Thomasina Connell and seconded by her Fine Gael colleague cllr Willie Aird.
Cllr Connell said: “This has taken enormous work and is largely thanks to the parish, particularly Monsignor John Byrne and the previous committee and their loyalty to the hall.
“It is giving some certainty to clubs utilising the hall. It is 32 years since I started gymnastics in that hall. It is absolutely brilliant we have secured this. Congratulations to all parties involved.”
The move was widely welcomed by councillors. Cllr Aird said: “I want to wish all of the committee involved in this well going forward. I understand that Portlaoise Panthers will be heavily involved, which is a very good step.”
The development means that the hall, the main base for Portlaoise Panthers, can be upgraded with public funds. The lease on a site of 0.2759 hectares covers the hall and car park.
Amid concern over the need for repairs to the hall, the Panthers had threatened to walk away from the facility last year and wanted the county council to build a new sports centre. The local authority commissioned a feasibility study which backed the proposal but funding was not secured.
Cllr Barry Walsh agreed that the latest development was very positive, saying: “It is great to see certainty.”
Cllr Aisling Moran said the county should have a sports stadium. Cllr Connell agreed, adding: “I would back any application for a project of that magnitude.”