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Is a new municipal hall the best first step to build a community centre?
The need for a community centre is widely acknowledged on Bowen Island but opinions diverge on how to best accomplish building one, even on the Bowen Island Community Centre Implementation Committee (BICCIC) and municipal council. Committee members as well as the public came out to the committee of the whole meeting on December 3 to find out the latest status of the initiative after councillors Tim Rhodes and Daron Jennings, who had served as council’s BICCIC liaisons, had resigned from the committee on November 5.
Shari Ulrich, chair of the committee, presented the committee’s report. “Everyone here in the room and beyond knows that the community centre is high up on the wish list of island residents,” she said, adding that the votes in the last election reflected that desire as the facility had been on top of the list of election promises. Ulrich also expressed the need to come away from the meeting with a clear direction on how to move the project forward.
“We may have had a different understanding about what our task was,” Ulrich said. She explained that the committee had worked to advance the project that had been presented to council in February. In November, council liaisons Rhodes and Jennings cited failure to “effectively communicate council’s wishes to the committee” and being “unable to contribute effectively to moving the implementation forward within the committee” as their reasons for resignation.
The BICCIC report has identified a number of key challenges that include the terms of reference, project vision and scope, municipal funding capacity and fundraising. Among the issues the committee has been looking at was the terms of reference that envisioned a construction start date of September 2013. Yet committee members feel that this time frame does not allow for sufficient community engagement or fundraising. In the report, the committee brought forward two options: one focuses on a facility that is achievable with existing municipal financial capacity within the timeframe of a September construction start date. The other option looks at a bigger vision that builds on existing funding sources and includes fundraising. Project manager Florrie Levine said it was unlikely that the bigger vision could be started in September 2013.
Councillor Wolfgang Duntz expressed disappointment that the committee had not undertaken community engagement or prepared what he saw as the first step for building a community centre: a referendum to determine whether the community would support borrowing the funds for building a new municipal hall. “We share in a good vision and big dreams but there is reluctance to develop it in incremental stages,” he said. “The first step is necessary to prove once and for all that we can do it,” he said, reasoning that starting with a project where the funding was already in place would build confidence in the community that the final vision can be realized. “Fundraising has never been part of the first phase,” he said. “We asked the committee to consult with the Finance Review Task Force and consider an option that doesn’t rely on senior government or outside fundraising.”
But not everyone agreed that building a municipal hall would be seen as an appropriate first step towards gaining a community centre. BICCIC member Natasha LaRoche is professional fundraiser and cautioned that, for a fundraising campaign to be successful, people have to believe in the vision. The campaign also takes time to develop and implement. “I would express concern about building something right away with the money that is available. I believe that would hamstring our future efforts and create sequencing problems,” LaRoche said. She said that a Cultural Spaces Canada grant had been identified as a possible external funding source but that the amount needs to be matched by local sources. If the money was already tied up, this avenue will not be available. LaRoche also said that part of the success relies on the articulation of the vision and commitment to the idea.
Ulrich also expressed concern about moving ahead without ensuring the steps to reach the larger vision. “We are concerned that this could be viewed as building a municipal hall and not a community centre. If a referendum isn’t accompanied by a larger vision, it might not have the community’s support,” she said, adding that the committee would suggest extending the timeline to be able to get donors and external funding in place.
Mayor Jack Adelaar agreed with LaRoche’s assessment about the fundraising campaign. “Everyone gravitates toward a community centre and we have a fabulous community where people give much for initiatives for arts and recreation,” he said, suggesting to draw on that generosity to raise funds for the community centre. Councillor Cro Lucas said he was inclined to support the bigger vision. “I’m as frustrated as anybody that it’s taken so long but we have to do due diligence and deliver the best to the community,” he said. “If we build something less than a community centre, that doesn’t have the potential to bring in what we need to operate it.” Councillors Daron Jennings and Tim Rhodes spoke in favour of building the community centre in phases.
Ulrich believes that the first step is an important one. Paul Hooson agreed, “The bottom line is not money but public trust.” He explained that the argument to build the spaces that are currently covered by paying rent (such as municipal and recreation offices), can be applied to all the proposed components of the community centre as artists and arts organizations are renting performance, workshop and exhibition space on an ongoing basis. Hooson added, “No one has disagreed with phasing but if you build what is the least needed for the community first, that creates a problem. If you say, ‘Let’s get shovels in the ground for new municipal offices,’ that does not excite me.” Hooson believes that the fist step is critical for community buy-in. Hans Behm is one of the founders of the Bowen Island Arts Council. He advised to approach community groups to build enthusiasm for the project and build the capacity for fundraising. He presented a cheque of $50 from his pension to the arts council with the promise of monthly donations for the community centre.
Council decided to bring back the BICCIC report at the December 17 council meeting.