Mayor defends rec facility decision
About 80 people marched from Central Park to town hall, Monday night, to urge council to reconsider its Aug. 27 decision for rec facilities. Morgan Ian Adams/Collingwood Enterprise-Bulletin.
COLLINGWOOD — The town's mayor went on the offensive, Monday night, in defending town council's decision to buy two fabric-covered buildings to house municipal recreation facilities.
Council decided Aug. 27 to spend $10.6 million to cover Centennial Pool with one of the structures, while using the second to build a new rink at Central Park. The structures would make both facilities year-round.
In the weeks following the decision, council has come under fire for the decision to sole-source the purchase from Calgary's Sprung Structures, as well as what appeared to be the haste in making a decision without giving the public opportunity to comment; the staff report supporting the purchase was presented to councillors three days prior to their decision.
However, Mayor Sandra Cooper, in a 12-minute address to kick off this Monday's meeting, assured residents the process was open and transparent.
She also emphasized that staff and councillors respected the work of the Central Park Steering Committee, which was tasked with investigating the option of building a multi-recreation facility at the park, and spent 10 months studying the options, and speaking with stakeholders and the public. That committee presented its recommendations in March: an estimated $35-million project that included two indoor rinks, a 25-metre, six-lane pool attached to the Collingwood YMCA, and community space — tied into the existing Y, and the curling club.
The committee also recommended the town explore whether there were funding opportunities from the upper levels of government, or whether a private partner could be found. Council balked at that option, citing the $40,000 cost.
"One has to keep in mind that whatever any committee recommends will not necessarily translate into things that have been run up the flagpole," said Cooper.
In June, council held a meeting dedicated to discussing the future of the project, with all council members citing the proposed $35-million cost of the project as a significant roadblock; council also received a letter from the Simcoe-Muskoka YMCA that they did not have the financial means to build a new pool at the Collingwood Y.
In July, councillors approved a motion directing municipal staff to investigate whether it was feasible to cover Centennial Pool, and build a new rink at Central Park with a similar covering.
"it's easy for some people to say that… (these) options were developed overnight; nothing could be further from the truth," she said.
Cooper said many residents lead busy lives, and don't otherwise see the work that goes on by municipal staff, town council, or council's committees.
"We just know that it happens, and it all adds up to making Collingwood a wonderful community in which we live," she said.
But, she said, "it's interesting to watch democracy in action as it is to hear the latest rumours that swirl about town.
"Unfortunately, people beyond the walls of town hall do not always see what is happening inside these walls. Sometimes we give some facts, (and people) go out and distort them," said Cooper. "Sometimes we have the facts at our fingertips, but they don't go out to the public the way they used to.
"I can assure… Collingwood taxpayers that there has been accountability and transparency, to all that has been done in the whirlwind 45 days during which we had our noses to the ice-and-pool grindstone, for the good of Collingwood.
"People have to keep in mind, as members of council and staff do, that we have to continue to pay for operational costs, debt retirement charges, and other looming capital expenditures," she said. "At the end of the day, when all the analysis is done, the current proposal which has approved, and the contract signed, stands as the best for our community.
"it is best because it is affordable, and can be covered with money we have."
She also defended the decision to sole-source the purchase of the two structures, citing the municipality's procurement policy which permits the practice if it's determined a company is the lone supplier of a service.
"There is nothing wrong with the bidding process our council and staff used," she said.
She also noted Sprung's technology is "unique" and a superior product.
"There is a tremendous appetite for Sprung to provide Collingwood with showcase structures which will be the envy and desire… of other communities," she said.
Cooper also cited that Sprung would providing the town with two turnkey operations by early next year (the pool is expected to be complete by February, the rink by next May), "and all we have to do is add swimmers, and skaters.
"It is respected that some members of council have the courage of their convictions to speak out, vote in an opposite way, and move on with municipal business. We don't always agree, but I would not do anything that I feel is detrimental to our community."
Councillor Keith Hull, who presented a series of questions last week he felt had not been answered throughout this most recent process, said he was still "disappointed.
"I'm not sure that (my) questions have been answered," he said following Monday's meeting. "What disappoints me today that I think to go out to the community and say we've met the ice and aquatic needs is premature; we can put an arena out in a field — whether we like the location of the field — that having a second ice surface will help us with the demand.
"But, to move forward with an aquatic facility that truly doesn't fulfill that one ingredient, which is the therapeutic pool," he said, "that need is not fulfilled today and it is a need that will continue to grow, so we need to address it, one way or the other."
He noted the YMCA has presented an option he believed merited review by council, but is unlikely to be considered.
"Why wouldn't we look at that proposal, for no other reason than to verify and support the decision that has already been made?" he questioned. "Someone would welcome that, say 'we made a good decision, we're confident we made the right decision, but let's have a look at what they're proposing just to be 100% sure'."
"The majority of people I speak to are (unhappy) that this was done so quickly, and that it's really not meeting the needs… from an aquatics standpoint."
Hull said one of those concerns is also if the municipality does not reach an agreement with the Y, and operates the pool, will the additional operating costs for the pool affect other municipal services — either through cuts, or increased user fees — in an environment in which council is trying to maintain minimal property tax increases.
"When you take an operational change… and say we're going to operate something we've never done before, it behooves us to make sure we have a strong business plan in place that says the demand is there, and the product we're going to build will fulfill that demand," he said.
During the council meeting, Hull noted, "We're not giving (council and staff) the opportunity to take a pause, and really think about the pool and what affect this will have long term in terms of competitive, recreation, and therapeutic (pool) requirements.
"I think the community is telling us — they're certainly telling me — that they would like us to pause, think about the decision that's been made, and ensure it is the right decision."
Hull said that should the YMCA continue to operate its own pool, and the town operate a year-round pool at Central Park, "the demographics of this community do not warrant two pools of this nature."