Youth centre escapes fire destruction

Underground Gym owner Peter Panetta removes tarps from musical instruments to find them safe and dry, thanks to Thunder Bay firefighters who took the time to install them during a blaze in a neighbouring building on Tuesday, November 19.

The fate of the Underground Gym has seen its final chapter as owner Peter Panetta announced it’s closure, Friday. But the closure of the structure doesn’t necessarily mean the closure of the club says Panetta who has other plans for the youth who rely on the club.

Panetta toured the gym Thursday and was astounded at the efforts made by Thunder Bay Fire to successfully save the clubhouse and its contents while battling a blaze in the neighbouring building. With everything intact, he planned to forge ahead and reopen the gym, despite what appeared to be an unsound structure where rats found their way into the pantry.

Panetta said he planned to reopen the clubhouse next week and returned Friday to see if heat and Hydro could be restored.

“I heard water running and I saw the pipes were broken and there was water everywhere.” he said. “The hot water tank was fallen over and it sunk inside the water.”

Panetta said he took everything in, the collapsing roof and sinking floor that is causing the box ring to tilt.

“And then I look in the pantry where the rats were and thought, ‘wait a minute, this is absurd, this is ridiculous,” he said. “I’m jeopardizing the safety of the children for what? To extend it by a month or two? Then I said ‘no, that’s it.’”

Panetta said he tried his best to keep the place running but now he has to do what he says is best for everyone, especially the children, and close the club. After making the decision, Friday, Panetta said he became emotional looking at the children’s artwork and reflecting on all the lives that he touched through providing the safe haven for youth who are at risk of wandering down the wrong path. Many of the children that spent time at the clubhouse over the years have grown into successful adults, one of them currently working as a security guard at the Underground Gym site following the Tuesday neighbouring fire.

“That part of the Underground is done,” he said. “But now I’m going to be taking the kids out in the bus.”

Panetta says he will continue to connect with the children through their parents and social media to organize daily outings in the bus. . . at least until something else in the form of a club house becomes available.

FUNDRAISER:  Georgia Wilkins has started a GoFundMe page on behalf of the Underground Gym & Youth Centre Inc. To made a donation, click HERE.

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