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Sustainability centre still in the works

Detailed plans to be presented to council in coming months



By Alison Taylor

The concept of the Whistler Centre for Sustainability is still very much alive at municipal hall, with interest in it growing by the day.

Though still in its fledgling stages, the rationale for a centre is reinforced daily as Whistler continues to make its mark on the sustainability front — both nationally and internationally.

“We’re leading the way in terms of community sustainability planning and initiatives but we need this other organization to be able to carry out some of these innovations and partnerships,” said Shannon Gordon, sustainability coordinator for the Resort Municipality of Whistler.

“It just doesn’t make sense for the municipality to be doing that.”

In the short-term, however, the municipality is spearheading the initiative and trying to get it off the ground.

It recently commissioned a feasibility study on the sustainability centre to determine if there’s a business case to move plans forward. The results of that study will be presented to council in detail in the coming months.

Until that time Gordon is hesitant to go into details about it but a general assumption, she said, is that the centre will act as an integral part of driving the community’s sustainability plan — Whistler2020 — and drawing others to Whistler to learn about sustainability.

“It becomes a training and education centre, it becomes a think-tank research centre, it becomes a consulting business, all rolled up into one,” she said.

The intention is that the Whistler Centre for Sustainability will be a leading edge organization where other communities and businesses can learn more about sustainability.

Several community task forces, that are part of establishing the priorities in the Whistler2020 plan every year, have identified the centre as a critical part of Whistler’s sustainability planning.

“Through the development of Whistler2020 and the engagement of 150-plus task force members, it became even more clear that we need a centre that’s responsible for the learning component of sustainability,” said Gordon.

“You need that learning focus and continuous improvement because we don’t have the answers yet. And so this type of a learning centre would help us not only engage more people… but actually building their capacity to do so.

“We’re at a place now where the rationale for the centre is even stronger.”

By the end of this year Gordon said she hopes to have a board of directors in place and an executive director hired. The centre most likely will act at arm’s length to the municipality, much like the Whistler Housing Authority. It will monitor and report on the municipality’s sustainability progress.

By 2008 there should be a more detailed business plan, a fundraising strategy and more program development in place.

But don’t expect to see a physical presence any time soon. There is no space or resources for that to happen before the 2010 Games.

“Even after the Games, it’s very much up in the air what that physical presence would be,” Gordon said, although there have been some conversations about a space in Lot 1/9, Whistler’s main Olympic plaza, after the Games.

The municipality has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Whistler Arts Council and the Whistler Museum & Archives Society to work together on opportunities to co-locate in a facility. That MOU is not binding.

The centre will remain virtual for the time being.

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