I feel compelled to respond to last week’s letter from Steve Rio. His main points are that this plan is out of step with the needs of a newer generation of residents, that it has not met an adequate standard of consultation and “meaningful engagement” with the community, and that a multi-purpose hall with performing arts capability is an expensive and unwarranted element that only benefits “a very small percentage of the island” who have been “pushing this plan for years”, and that it should be scrapped and replaced with “amenities like courts, or an indoor climbing wall , or a skate park, or whatever.”
Nothing could be further from reality on every point. The basic needs of newer residents such as elders, young families, teens and working people have not changed significantly over time, other than becoming more pressing and embracing advanced technology. Many longer-term residents started families here, raised them with similar concerns, and are vitally engaged in their wellbeing. Our children are now raising their own children here, and as involved grandparents, we have a pretty clear picture of what their lives entail. To suggest otherwise is dismissive of our significant life experience and understanding of what it takes to nurture a healthy island community. I will argue that with a three-fold increase in population since the ‘80s, we need this centre more than ever.
No project on the island has been more exhaustively vetted than this one, including at least five municipal committees over 20 years, in-depth community visioning sessions, recreation master plans, cultural master plans, and significant stakeholder and public input. At every step of the way, “meaningful engagement” has been pursued rigorously. These are not archaic documents with out of date conclusions. They are the building blocks of a careful, comprehensive and responsible process that has refined the vision and capability of such a facility over time.
The current plan distilled the findings of the past and present into a modest but potent design that meets our diverse critical social, recreational, cultural and local government needs, for the short and long term. This called for compromise and cooperation at every turn but the result is a facility that will be widely used, practical and affordable to operate, no matter if you are a newer islander or not.
Is the multi-purpose hall an overly expensive undertaking that only benefits the few? The success of the grant is in large part because this hall is included. We simply would not have it if a cultural component were not present. This infrastructure grant is, in many ways, an offshoot of the Cultural Spaces Canada granting program that the arts community has been pursuing for years. All that was missing was a shovel-ready proposal that met their criteria of demonstrable public and municipal support. This was achieved through public fundraising, local government reserves, the designation of land, and a practical capital construction and business plan, hence we were found worthy, if it included much-needed cultural space.
Retractable seating and adequate acoustic and visual capability are key to this room functioning for the greater community beyond the arts. It allows the space to be used in a myriad of ways, far beyond performances, and the seating is an integral and important part of allowing this to be truly multi-purpose. The grant is basically paying for the seating as part of the Furniture, Fixtures and Equipment (FF&E) component, and is not just a luxury, but a necessity, from their point of view. And they are right. Without the capability of quickly reconfiguring the room for a variety of uses, it would not meet the demands of our community as identified by recent, historic, and ongoing public engagement.
Finally, I will comment on the assertion that this is just an agenda “pushed” by a small percentage of the island. You just have to look at the 148 islanders on the list of supportive people that were willing to put their names publicly forward (published in this paper on Aug. 27) to see that this is not so. Those on that list represent all demographics of this island, no matter what their age, interests, or length of residency. This initiative has broad support, and to reduce it to the old trope of a vocal minority pursuing a narrow, self-interested, and out of date agenda does everyone a disservice. It’s an easy accusation that ignores the exemplary and inclusive provenance of this project.
In the end, this issue should be judged on the greater worth of the design, not on how long people have worked on it, or whether it meets enough of your own personal desires. To my mind, we have never had a better plan, one that will shepherd our young and old into a new and much-needed era of connection and healthy activity.