The board of the Squamish Lillooet Regional District (SLRD) has put the brakes on plans to spend about $400,000 to renovate a house in Birken and turn it into a community centre, after some residents raised concerns about the project.
About eight people attended Monday’s (June 25) SLRD meeting in Pemberton in regards to the matter, with D’Arcy resident Lincoln Ferguson addressing board members to ask that other options be considered.
“That money doesn’t need to be spent there,” Ferguson told The Question on Tuesday (June 26). “Not that Birken doesn’t need a community centre, but they spent the wrong money. They spent bad money.
“They bought a house.”
What’s become known as the Gates Lake facility was purchased by the SLRD about two years ago for $365,000, said Susie Gimse, the SLRD’s Area C director and board chair.
The money came from the Area C amenity fund, which is made up of developer contributions from various independent power projects and the Wedge Woods development.
The house purchase came in response to repeated calls from Birken and D’Arcy area residents that the area needs its own community facility — a place for community programs, meeting space and more, Gimse said. There are many young families in the area and for many it’s not feasible to drive 40 minutes to Pemberton for community programs.
“What we heard over and over again is the community has no central gathering place,” Gimse said on Tuesday. “It’s been a constant complaint I’ve received as an elected official.”
Ferguson said everyone he’s talked to in the area agrees that Birken and D’Arcy need a community facility. But there was no public consultation before the house was purchased, and it’s not the right space for a community centre, he added.
The largest single room in the house is about 600 square feet — a space that’s too small to accommodate large meetings or a community function such as a dance, Ferguson said.
Instead of spending upwards of $800,000 to purchase and renovate the Gates Lake house, Ferguson said he’d prefer to see a purpose-built community centre that could be large enough to include a gym. And there’s a piece of flat land by the Birken fire hall that’s already zoned for community centre use, he added.
Ferguson, who ran against Gimse for the Area C director’s position in November’s election, also figures a new building would cost less overall than the total cost to buy, renovate and rezone the house.
On the table at Monday’s SLRD meeting was a motion to award a renovation contract for the Gates Lake facility to the tune of about $400,000 to add washrooms, a kitchen staging area, create an outdoor access and more, Gimse said.
But after hearing concerns from Ferguson and others, the board voted not to award the contract and instead directed SLRD staff to go back and look at other options for the facility — mostly centered on the possibility of enlarging some of the spaces, Gimse said.
“I think in the long term perhaps we were a little bit short-sighted,” she said. “We certainly listened to their comments and concerns… (and took them) into consideration.”
However, Gimse said taking another look at the project before moving forward with renovations doesn’t mean considering an entirely different project to build something new.
A public meeting was held in Birken last week about the community centre project, with more than 70 people in attendance, and several people spoke in favour of the Gates Lake house, Gimse said.
It has a great view of the lake, it’s located in a part of the community that has a good population and there’s space for a small field, she said.
“It’s a great parcel of land. There’s opportunity to grow, there’s ample parking.”
While some residents at the public meeting said they wanted larger spaces and a gym, others spoke in favour of smaller spaces, Gimse said.
“You can’t please all the people all the time,” she said.
When asked if another public meeting will be held after SLRD staff come back with options for the Gates Lake facility, Gimse said no decisions have been made about the process beyond the direction to staff to revisit the plans.