News » Whistler

Community stops community centre

SLRD pulls support for facility and government grant



Pemberton area residents have rejected the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District and the Village of Pemberton’s plans to borrow $2.5 million to build a community centre many people felt was inadequate.

To stop the recreation centre proposal the people needed 429 "no" petitions, which is 10 per cent of the electors in Pemberton and the SLRD Area C; they got 866 signatures.

This overwhelming result sparked an emergency SLRD board meeting on Wednesday (April 6) where they passed bylaw 931, which said:

"THAT work on the current proposal for a new community centre for the Pemberton/Area C Community Recreation Service be discontinued.

"THAT the Province of B.C. be advised that the board is unable to fulfill the obligations of the ($1.1 million) Canada/B.C. Infrastructure Grant for the community centre; and THAT the current application for Olympic/Paralympic Live site funding be withdrawn.

"Also: THAT a letter be sent to the Premier and Minister Stephen Owen, explaining the situation with respect to the Pemberton Community Centre, articulating that the community’s needs have changed, and requesting funding."

Work was due to start on the community centre within the next two months but this bylaw effectively stops all government-endorsed plans for a community centre in Pemberton.

The $1.1 million Canada/B.C. grant that the SLRD and the Village of Pemberton acquired to help with the costs of the community centre is also gone.

Pemberton Mayor Elinor Warner and SLRD Area C Director Susan Gimse both said the focus should now be on finishing the five-year Recreation Plan and going back to consult with the community.

Gimse said it was frustrating to have started a process of public consultation in 2001 only to have the whole plan scrapped in 2005.

"I think we have to make a decision to go back to the community because clearly the demographic has changed," said Gimse.

"I don’t want to proceed again until we’re sure what the community wants."

There are local elections in November and Gimse conceded the political overtones from this issue were hard to ignore.

"We’re in a year where there’s a civic election and… that’s part of the reason why this whole thing failed."

Mayor Warner said Pemberton was not in a position to reject the SLRD’s bylaw and build its own community centre.

"We don’t have the ability to borrow that kind of money," said Warner.

"We share recreational funding with the regional district and they pay for over 50 per cent so there’s no way… 2,000 people would have the ability to borrow any more money.

"We are saying now that we’re going to update our five-year community recreation plan and go back for some more community consultation to see exactly what the community wants.

"That’s about all we can do at this time because a democratic process has taken place and we were told that the community centre that we had (presented) isn’t what the community wants."

While this result is a messy set back for the SLRD and Village of Pemberton, for a group of "concerned residents" which includes Sandy Ryan, Ivan Knowles and Peter Pocklington, it’s a victory.

Ryan and company were the leaders behind the "no" vote, but there is a lot of talk about the fact that they might not have understood the ramifications of what they were doing.

SLRD Chief Administrator Paul Edgington said some people in the community might have misjudged how flexible the government’s $1.1million grant would be.

"I’m not certain they (the community) understand what they have done," said Edgington.

Ryan said the grant wasn’t important if it meant the community wasn’t going to be consulted.

Ryan said he would like to see Bob Wilson, Pemberton’s interim administrator who was relieved by Bryan Kirk last week, return to Pemberton and act as a consultant between the community and government.

"My way of thinking is that we would like someone like Bob Wilson (to help), because we all thought a lot of him and he was only here a short time," said Ryan.

"We’re thinking that someone with his capabilities, that isn’t backlogged like everybody else, could really help. Because to expedite this thing the people that are there now, they just don’t have time, they’re too busy with everything else."