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WCSS deliberating over Re-Build-It Centre

Municipal staff, council prefer Callaghan location over Function Junction

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Where the proposed Re-Build-It-Centre will go is still up for debate, with the Whistler Community Services Society (WCSS) confirming last week that their board has not made a final decision on the Callaghan or Function Junction sites.

“We are looking at a number of different factors, and being that it is a retail operation, we are concerned that we can drive traffic to that location, wherever that location is,” explained Lorna van Straaten, administrator for WCSS, on Tuesday, Oct. 21.

Funding for the Re-Build-It-Centre has not been secured, and WCSS needs to pick a location and develop a thorough business plan before they can move forward.

The Re-Build-It-Centre would be similar to the existing Re-Use-It-Centre in Function, but it would focus on building materials, doors, windows, and kitchen cabinets. Like the Re-Use-It-Centre, revenue would support WCSS programming.

The problem with the Function site is that space would be limited, making parking next to the centre difficult and also preventing any expansion of the Re-Build-It-Centre in the future.

On the other hand, WCSS are concerned that the Callaghan location is too remote and that building on undeveloped land would be more costly for the non-profit organization.

“When you are dealing with raw land, there are quite a number of costs associated with getting that land serviced,” said van Straaten.

“Getting a business up and running at a location that would be starting with raw land is considerably more expensive.”

She added that when the WCSS surveyed the community about the two locations, 99 per cent of people preferred that the Re-Build-It-Centre be in Function.

Despite these concerns, municipal staff and council are in favour of building the centre in the Callaghan.

During an update to council last week, Brian Barnett, general manager of environmental services for the municipality, said municipal staff believe the Callaghan’s distant location should not impact the centre’s success.

“What we have convinced ourselves is that the facility does not need to have the same strategy as the Re-Use-It-Centre,” said Barnett.

“The Re-Build-It-Centre is for a more specific market — the construction market — so it does not need to be located in a preferred location from a general public perspective.”

He also said that the Re-Use-It-Centre has expanded three times over the last three years, so it would be shortsighted to build the Re-Build-It-Centre in such a tight spot.

Council voted 4-2 in support of the recommendation, with councillors Eckhard Zeidler and Ralph Forysth voting in opposition based on nuances in the wording.

Because the WCSS will be on the hook if the Re-Build-It-Centre turns out not to be profitable, van Straaten stressed this week that location is imperative.

“Unfortunately, it is reality of the times, the municipality doesn’t have a lot of available cash sitting around that they can help fund projects,” she said.

“We do realize that we have to be fairly self sufficient to get it up and running. As such, if it does fail, we are on the hook for it, and it will be all our money that was used to build the business that would be going down the drain.”

A virtual version of the Re-Build-It-Centre was launched earlier this year at www.mywcss.org/Re-Build-ItCatalogue.htm, but so far has not been successful.

van Straaten said while the virtual centre has received “nice” donations, no one has yet purchased any of the products off the site. She said this is likely because the on-line version of the store is a new concept, and the site will need time to be profitable.

If the Re-Build-It-Centre is successful, however, van Straaten said it could double the WCSS’s services in the community and would remove the need for the society to seek funding from local and provincial government sources.

“I am very hopefully that we can continue to move this project ahead. I believe it is a win-win for both us and the municipality, and all the residents in Whistler,” she said, adding that once funding is secured, the centre could be built within a year.

The WCSS operates more than 25 community service programs, many with funds generated by the Re-Use-It Centre, including the food bank, community kitchens, emergency assistance, youth outreach and Whistler Welcome Week.

A rough business plan for the Re-Build-it-Centre — drafted in March by WCSS without knowing where the centre will go — suggest the building will cost between $150,000 and $450,000.

Meanwhile, on Monday night council debated whether the RMOW could eventually help finance the construction project.

Zeidler tried to put forward an amendment to municipal staff’s recommendation that specified that WCSS would pay 100 per cent of the capital building costs rather than “leaving it open ended and giving them the false impression that we might be kicking in money for this.”

Three councillors and the mayor knocked down the amendment, however.

“This is a team effort,” said Councillor Tim Wake.

“WCSS is doing this basically on our behalf based on a suggestion from the Whistler 2020 task force. I just don’t want to put that kind of amendment in there because at some point, as we work through the process together, it may be appropriate for the municipality to support it in that way. At the same time, I think it is clear that the intention is that there is going to be no RMOW dollars.”

Mayor Ken Melamed also said he liked the idea of maintaining flexibility, later adding that $1.5 million is spent shipping waste to Washington every year.

“With a small investment of cash up front, we can actually save ourselves money in the long term,” he said.