Coopers Green Park is a jewel with a charming little community hall. The hall is showing its age, and there are lots of good reasons to replace it rather than try to renovate the existing building. Community members have been discussing and planning for this for a number of years and are eager to move ahead.
I haven’t said a great deal about this project until now because it’s not in my area. However, community halls are funded by the taxpayers of all the rural areas, not just Area B, so the decisions made about this project will affect Elphinstone taxation and have implications for the future of all of our community halls.
Bluntly, I can’t support the project as it is currently constituted. Here are my reasons why.
The SCRD operates five community halls, two in Area F (Granthams and Eric Cardinall), two in E (Chaster House and Frank West) and one in Area B (Coopers Green). Other community halls are owned and run by community groups, such as the Gambier Island Hall and Roberts Creek Hall.
It’s not entirely clear how the SCRD got into the business of operating community halls, and there is no policy around their acquisition or creation, or any long term strategy. Three were acquired from community groups and two were purpose built (Frank West and Eric Cardinall). All of the current halls are quite modest, with a meeting room, limited kitchen facilities, and washrooms.
The 2014 Recreation Master Plan identifies these halls as being primarily for “neighbourhood-focused programming,” for residents who “would be ideally within walking distance.”
The current Coopers Green plan is for a hall almost three times the size of any existing hall, designed to accommodate banquets and wedding receptions. This represents a considerable departure from the scale and scope of the other halls, and raises a lot of questions around operating costs, parking, and noise. (Having lived near Chaster House, which hosts weddings in summer, I can attest to the noise and parking problems.)
The Halfmoon Bay Community Association has stepped up with an offer to manage the hall, which I fully support. However, they plan to fund operating costs through facility rentals for large events, which would put them into publicly subsidized competition with local businesses such as Rockwater Resort. That makes me uncomfortable.
And as Director Siegers pointed out, community groups often struggle with capacity. That’s the reason the SCRD took on Granthams Hall, as one example. So while we hope the community association could operate the hall indefinitely, we must prepare for the contingency that we might have to run it. Does the SCRD have the capacity to run a banqueting facility? No.
The Auditor General for Local Government has just published best capital project practices for local governments, which outlines common pitfalls to avoid. (A whole lot of them apply to the building of the Sechelt Pool and the Gibsons Rec Centre, by the way—see page 20-22.) The say that the first piece of information elected officials should look for is a business case showing costs over the life of the asset. We don’t have one.
It also says we should consider the project’s priority in relation to our multi-year capital asset plan. Staff are working on a capital asset plan for Recreation, but it’s not in place yet.
BUILDING FOR CLIMATE CHANGE
As we slide into a global climate crisis, building design practices are undergoing a revolution. New standards are being developed not only for incorporating renewable energy and zero emissions standards (including passive building design), but for considering embodied carbon costs. None of that is reflected in the current Coopers Green plan.
As local government we have a responsibility to be leaders in sustainable practices. Moreover, we need to take the long view. Community halls don’t change much. Granthams Hall is 90 years old and looks good for another 50. So we should be designing for future generations and incorporating features that will provide value to taxpayers for decades to come.
And of course there’s sea level rise. Coopers Green is on the waterfront. Can we build a hall in that location? Maybe, but I sure want to see some rigorous analysis. The attached graph is from a BC government toolkit on sea level rise adaptation. Given that climate change is happening faster than anyone anticipated, and sea level rise projections keep increasing, we need to give this serious thought.
So, back to the auditor general’s best practices. The last major building projects the SCRD undertook were plagued with problems. The Sechelt pool and the Gibsons rec centre were both constructed during a major building boom while costs inflated dramatically and local contractors were already so busy that companies had to be brought in from offcoast to do the work. Does that sound familiar?
Members of the Halfmoon Bay community are eager and anxious to build a new hall. That’s entirely understandable, but is this the time? At the very least I’d like to ensure that work on a multi million dollar project is awarded to local businesses, rather than having our tax dollars leave the coast.
I’m not against replacing Coopers Green Hall. I’m even open to being persuaded that the waterfront location is feasible. But I feel there are a lot of questions to be answered before I can vote to proceed.