News » Whistler

Cheakamus park budget cut in half

Handful of capital projects revised as council tries to balance budget



Cheakamus Crossing will get a neighbourhood park but to Mike Boehm its reduced size and scale feels like another broken promise to the residents.

It's like the high performance gym facility he thought he would be able to use at the nearby Athletes Centre and the low hydro bills he was expecting to pay with the state of the art district energy system. Neither materialized.

So, on Tuesday, when council voted to cut the Bayly Park budget in half and spend $1.4 million for a lawn about half the size of a soccer field, a play structure, a gravel soccer pitch and track, and two sand volleyball courts, Boehm couldn't help but express his disappointment.

Don't get him wrong: he feels extremely fortunate to have his home in the neighbourhood But for a price tag of almost half a million dollars, he was also expecting other perks that had been talked about in the planning stages.

"If I've paid that kind of money, I kind of expect to get what I've been promised," said the father of twin five year olds.

The first plans for the park were budgeted for close to $9 million and included grassy soccer fields, a water park, large green space, a toboggan hill, and, one day, hard courts, a skateboard park, a bike skills park and a synthetic running track. That plan, however, was contingent on two-thirds coming from the Building Canada Fund, and that money never materialized.

"I'm a little embarrassed to see that concept from a while back," admitted Councillor Eckhard Zeidler. "Those must have been pretty heady times in Whistler. Those days are over."

Zeidler asked council to consider holding discussions with the Cheakamus residents to go over the new plans. But, with an open house already in the works, council voted against further consultation.

Instead, it approved the revised project plans, which cut the park's budget in half from the $3 million line item in the draft municipal budget.

Martin Pardoe, manager of resort parks planning, explained the rationale for the new plans.

Staff did a detailed analysis of neighbourhood park size and amenities. From that research, he said, staff developed the new park concept.

"This is an excellent start for a community park down there," said Pardoe.

The gravel field, he explained, would provide early and late season soccer practice facility for the community.

In addition, there will be space for community greenhouses.

The plan also includes a process to "green up the site" to a rough grass standard and the lands will be held in reserve for future park uses or left to naturalize.

The plan is welcome news to Hostelling International, which had recently voiced concerns over the re-visiting of the park development by council. Its hostel is adjacent to Bayly Park in Cheakamus Crossing.

"Certainly we welcome the news that something is being developed there," said Rob Cryder, COO of Hostelling International

"Right now it's like backing on to a quarry."

Bayly Park was just one of four capital projects that had been sent back to staff for a closer look in order to find some cost savings to help balance the 2011 books.

The changes now been seen in the Bayly Park plan are the result of hard questions asked by Mayor Ken Melamed at a January council meeting. At the time he questioned the sensibility of spending millions on a park with budget issues top of mind in the community.

In all council's second look has resulted in about $2 million in capital and related operational savings.

Staff found $375,000 in savings by getting rid of the Spruce Grove Valley Trail Bridge.

A bridge replacement was slated to cost more than half a million dollars but staff is now recommending spending money to remove the bridge and build a valley trail connection on the Mons Road shoulder.

Also kept on the capital program is the 19 Mile Pedestrian Bridge Crossing in Alpine Meadows for a cost of almost $425,000. The bridge will link Alpine on the west side close to the highway.

Mayor Ken Melamed commented on the safety aspect of building that bridge with people walking on the snow above the railing now and sliding onto the highway.

"There's a high level of need for that," he said.

Finally, $50,000 will remain in the Recreational Trail Program budget. Council had originally understood that this line item was for new trails in Lost Lake Park. Staff explained, however, that the money is slated for trails throughout the valley.

Top projects this year include: replacing the River Runs Through It bridge over 21 Mile Creek, addressing heavily braided sections in the Zappa network, and rerouting the Flank Trail climbs.