Maple Ridge council is making significant progress in discussions on various recreation and community cultural proposals that could total in excess of $121 million in construction costs over an undetermined period of time.
At first blush, the dollar amounts seem staggering. But many of the projects are long overdue and they are all needed to help meet the significant demands of our rapidly growing population.
Despite the costs, the timing couldn’t be better as senior levels of government have said significant sums are potentially available for approved infrastructure projects, such as many of the items on Maple Ridge’s lengthy list.
The infrastructure grants are all taxpayers’ dollars, but are drawn from national and provincial coffers, a rare opportunity to get back some of our own money.
While the city’s proposals are broken into five separate groups, the majority of senior government funding would likely be more readily available for the component that includes a museum, an archives, post secondary education space, a youth wellness centre and a civic meeting space, to be located in the southwest corner of Memorial Peace Park.
The $30 to $40 million price tag for this group would also include the cost of renovating the existing Leisure Centre and surface development of the space between the indoor pools and the proposed museum/archives/education component.
There is an existing and serious need for all of the proposed facilities. However, the most outstanding lack in public facilities in Maple Ridge is a museum and archives and a youth wellness centre.
It is to the undying credit of Val Patenaude, her staff and many volunteers over the past several decades that the tiny and inadequate museum on the site of the former Haney Brick and Tile plant continues to operate as well as it does.
Not only these people, but all of the people who have helped create Maple Ridge as we know it today, deserve to have their history and our current and future stories properly recorded and documented. But the scope of that expectation cannot be met in the current museum facility.
The other main components of the overall proposal include improvements to various existing facilities and some new facilities in areas such as Silver Valley and Albion.
I don’t think any of the proposals should need to compete with any of the other proposals for priority, but necessity and economics dictate that some will be perceived in a more favourable light than others.
Even if a decision is made to tear it down and build a new facility, the current Leisure Centre and its aquatic components require fairly immediate attention. Tying the necessary Leisure Centre upgrades to other adjacent projects, such as the museum and youth wellness centre, makes economic sense, particularly in view of the possible availability of infrastructure grants.
While financing the various proposals looks destined to be subject to a referendum, some of the projects could proceed without the alternative approval process. This can be accomplished by borrowing the required amounts, which, according to provincial law, would then have to be paid off within a five-year period.
There is also a strong possibility of partial corporate funding for some of the projects.
My personal preference would be to proceed with the Leisure Centre/museum/archives/youth wellness project on a priority basis and to finance it over a five-year period to avoid the necessity and time delay involved with an alternative approval process. It’s simple, the other components of the overall plan can wait, but the museum can’t.
No matter how city council decides to proceed, all of these projects are important and every taxpaying citizen and corporation should become involved and informed.
There will be many and varied opportunities to become acquainted with the details. If you have a computer, you can probably find out most of what you’ll need to know by logging onto the city’s website or by contacting city hall.
Sandy Macdougall is a retired journalist and former city councillor.