Public has say on rec facility decision 0
COLLINGWOOD — It's not likely to make a difference, but now the people have had their say.
On Wednesday night, Friends of Central Park Project hosted its own public meeting on town council's decision for recreational facilities. For more than two-and-a-half hours, people presented their concerns about council's perceived haste in making an $11-million decision, only three days after receiving a report, as well as the decision to not tender the purchase of two membrane buildings from Sprung Structures — one to cover Centennial Pool, and the second for a new ice surface at Central Park.
While there were were five people on the panel at the front of the Normandy Room at the Legion, ready to answer questions, it was the town's acting-CAO Ed Houghton who found himself on the hot seat for most of the evening, as the crowd peppered him with queries on the process.
The fact municipal staff were present, while council members were not, was not lost on the crowd, which at one point during the meeting numbered about 100, but otherwise levelled out at around 60.
"The wrong person is sitting up there," resident Norm Minnikin said in prefacing his question to the town administrator. "It should be council."
Houghton did take a little heat early in the meeting, as his presentation ran a little longer than most anticipated, drawing a smattering of catcalls to sit down and let the public ask questions.
Municipal staff were also queried on the inclusion of $8 million from the sale of 50% of Collus to PowerStream in the calculation of how the municipality would pay for the two new structures; town council will be holding a public meeting in the near future to discuss how the municipality should use the proceeds of the Collus sale, and municipal staff have always emphasized the inclusion of that money to pay for recreation facilities is still to be confirmed by the public.
Treasurer Marjorie Leonard — one of four municipal staffers at Wednesday night's meeting, along with Clerk Sara Almas and Parks, Recreation and Culture director Marta Proctor — told the crowd that should it be decided not to spend the Collus money on the recreational facilities, the municipality still had adequate financial reserves to pay for the structures without affecting taxpayers.
The panel also addressed the potential of the partnership with the YMCA, and the possibility the town will build a warm-water therapeutic pool — covered by a Sprung building — beside Centennial Pool.
Houghton said municipal officials are still in discussions with the Y to operate the town's aquatic facilities, and the Y representative on the panel, David Gras, said that decision was still to be made by the Y's board of directors.
"The rationale for not putting (the pool) at the (Y site) is in a number of documents… to be able to put the pool where you're suggesting is more than what we can afford to do at this time," Houghton said in response to why the town and Y couldn't partner on a pool at Central Park.
Houghton said that building a pool at the Y site, as well as the appropriate parking, would cost upwards of $10 million — factoring in not only the cost of the pool and parking, but also the replacement of a ball diamond that would need to be removed from the park in order to creating more room for cars.
His comments were countered by Central Park Steering Committee co-chair Brian Saunderson — who, along with PRC chair Penny Skelton and Friends of Central Park spokesperson Geoff Moran, was also on the panel — who argued it was "disingenuous to say" a new pool at the Y would be more expensive when the municipality's estimation of operating costs for an aquatic facility at Centennial Pool were on the low end.
Building at the Y and having the facility operated by the Y, said Saunderson, could ultimately be $5 million to $10 million cheaper over the next 30 years than the project the town is moving ahead with.
He also noted the pool proposed for the Y would be a regulation six-lane 25-metre pool, and wider than the tank at Centennial Pool; while Centennial Pool is 25 metres, it cannot accommodate touch plates for electronic timing (races must be hand-timed), and its narrower lanes and lack of a gutter-edge makes for slower times.
Houghton also defended council's decision to sole-source the purchase of the buildings from Sprung, noting the company's product far exceeded other fabric structures in the market.
"When we looked at the other options, it was determined this was a unique, patented construction," he said. "There is no other apples-to-apples comparison."
And, said Houghton, Sprung's product also wins out when put against the options of a brick-and-mortar building, and a fabricated steel building.
He also addressed the suggestion that the town could cancel the contract with the supplier, BLT Construction, relatively cheaply, noting the town has already written the company a cheque for $3.1 million.
As the meeting started to petered around 9 p.m. (it started at 6:30), resident Rick Crouch told Houghton there was a clear message to take back to town council.
"The optics (of the decision) don't look good, regardless of how good Sprung is," said Crouch. "It was a cavalier way of spending $11 million."
Friends of Central Park intends to summarize the comments in a report to be presented to town council at a later date.
After the meeting, Saunderson said he believed the meeting went well, and the reaction he heard "is consistent with the types of comments... for and against that we've heard.
"This was a great example of grassroots community action," he said. "It was an opportunity for people to voice an opinion, and from the steer committee's perspective, one of our focuses was always to get community input."
The intention of Friends of Central Park is to summarize the comments and questions presented on Wednesday, and present them in a report to town council. The group will also be asking to make a deputation to council.