Ask Pat: Climbing (pool) walls

Jason asks—

I’m very interested about how the new pool is coming along and would like to know if there is still opportunity to give input on what amenities go into this new centre.

This coming summer Olympic games in Tokyo will feature a new sport: rock climbing. The climbing event will include three disciplines: sport, bouldering, and speed. 40 climbers (20 men and 20 women) will compete over four days, and the medalists will be chosen based on the combined results of all three disciplines.

I understand that adding a full-scale rock wall, bouldering wall AND speed wall might not be in the budget or have space for it in the new facility. Perhaps only one discipline could be incorporated into the new building… I propose speed climbing. This is because there are already dedicated facilities who offer a wide range of sport and bouldering walls, but speed walls are few and far between. Creating a place for speed wall competition would add a truly unique, exciting, cutting edge component to New Westminster that no other municipality in the country offers. The square footage required of a climbing wall would be fairly minimal as the space needed is more vertical than horizontal. New auto-belay systems are very safe and would allow for individuals new to climbing to try out the sport without needing a partner to belay for them.

We live in a part of the country that offers mountains and the ocean, all in one city. But we all know that it rains for the better part of the year, so why not offer swimming AND climbing in this new state of the art facility?

So my question to you is: What would it take for council to seriously consider incorporating the idea of a speed climbing rock wall into the plans?

The short answer is people need to ask for it, and convince staff it is a good idea. A good case can be made that this improves the overall program in a meaningful way, and makes the entire pool a better grant application. Of course, as always, there is a longer answer.

The Canada Games Pool replacement is a big project, likely the biggest single capital investment the City has ever made. We have spent a couple of years doing extensive public consultations and project planning work – from figuring out a financing model to determining where a new 140,000sqft building can be built without tearing down the old pool first to developing a business plan around what the different major program elements (natatorium, pools, gyms , meeting space, etc.) look like. As we reported last month, we have a pretty well developed plan around these “big questions” and are now working on the next steps: developing a solid senior government grant application and procurement processes.

With clear direction on the bigger questions (square footage, major program elements, buildability), we still have a tonne of smaller questions to answer. I don’t mean smaller in the sense that they are less important, but smaller in that they are more fine-grained details that we need to design, the can hang on the larger framework once built.

I was able to attend one day of  conference out in Harrison last winter where recreation programmers from around the province met to talk about new trends in recreation. It was interesting to hear, especially, how community recreation spaces (centres and outdoor spaces) were changing in Europe. The old-school gyms where basketball and badminton and indoor soccer lines shared floor space between four blank walls were being replaced by more organically-shaped mixed use spaces. They still accommodate the traditional team sports, but were designed to also accommodate adventure playing, climbing walls, and “free play” areas. Outdoor areas where there used to be a soccer pitch within a running track used free spaces to create three-dimensional workout and fun areas, again emphasizing unstructured and creative play instead of just traditionally-structured team sport. It was inspiring, as there was clear integration of traditional sports with spaces designed to be more flexible and share space, and our recreation staff were paying attention.

So when I think about the Canada Games Pool replacement, I see gyms that can house basketball and pickleball, but I also imagine a space designed to have this kind of flexibility. I think a climbing wall would be a great addition, and could easily be fit within that space.

I’m not a climber, so I would need to hear from the climbing community what they would want to see, and to know how it can fit within the space. This should happen soon, as every new and creative use idea (especially ones that appeal to emerging competitive sports) actually strengthen the case for significant Federal and Provincial grants. Could you rally Sport Climbing BC into sending a brief to Council and staff? Let me know!


On a somewhat similar point, I can answer a question for a resident who dropped by my Ask Pat booth a couple of weeks ago and asked about the future of the diving board at Moody Park outdoor pool. As I wrote this answer to you, I see that Staff have come up with a creative replacement plan, so here is the background on that.

The diving board had some structural problems last year, and required repairs. However, the diving board was increasingly an area of concern at the pool, as the depth of the pool and nature of the slope in the tank was such that it did not make our lifeguard staff happy. They restricted head-first diving, and it had been increasingly causing them concern, so the decision was made to not replace the diving board. This is a disappointment to some of the regular pool users.

The good news is that staff have found a creative play element that can replace the diving board, and not have the safety concerns of the springboard. It is an adjustable climbing wall apparatus that bows over the water. Kids and adults can challenge themselves to do climbing moves and try to get to the top of the apparatus, and will splash down in the deep end of the pool if (when!) they lose grip.

I recognize this is not a “competitive” climbing apparatus, but it is adjustable to different skill levels, and should be a fun piece of equipment, and may give a generation of kids a first taste of the newest Olympic sport.

More pool

Last Council meeting, we had an update report on the replacement plans for the Canada Games Pool, and a reporting out on the results of the last round of public engagement. I mentioned it briefly in my council report, but it is a big enough story that I thought I would flesh this out with a bit more detail, and share some of my thinking on this project.

Back in the spring, the City began this round of public and stakeholder consultation on the replacement of the Canada Games Pool and Centennial Community Centre. This came after two years of meeting with stakeholders, holding a pretty comprehensive public engagement process, work with program staff at the pool, architects, geotechnical engineers, and other subject matter experts. I talked about that first-phase work more in this Blog Post I wrote earlier this year, and at that time mentioned we were ready to take a draft plan out to the public based on that work.

As you may have heard, part of this engagement was a call from the Hyack Swim Club to build a more competition-oriented pool than the initial plans presented. Although the plans were developed with consultation with competitive swimming, which included a 50m pool length and a secondary pool that was amenable for warm-up and cool-down lengths, they did not feel the draft plan provided a venue that supported the level of competition their club could support.

Putting the wants of this user group aside for a moment, it is clear from the engagement that the program proposed closely matches the desires of the greater community that will ultimately pay for most of the new facility. The balance of aquatics and leisure swim space, the enhanced fitness centre, community flex space and gyms, and childcare facility are all well supported (in the end, we may need more pickleball space, but I’m not sure we will ever meet that demand!). So I am satisfied that the program we have proposed is the program we need in the community, and the public engagement results reflect that.

That does not mean this facility has everything everyone wants. Simply put, that was not possible, partly because we have a limited budget and buildable area on the site, partly because when you do comprehensive public engagement (see the 60 pages(!) of comments included in the report) you get a lot of contradictory requests. For everyone who wants, for example, a lazy river, there is someone who hates the concept. Parsing through this mixed data was a big task for staff, our consultant, and the taskforce.

I need to emphasize that the Hyack Swim Club was involved in this process from the beginning. Several meetings were held with their board and coaching staff, and their members were encouraged to take part in the public engagement process. From day 1 it was recognized that the competitive swimming community valued this asset, and as a regional community they are a vocal in discussions of any new aquatics complex in the region. There was no doubt that Hyack wanted as high-level a competitive pool as possible, up to a pool that would meet all Swim Canada requirements for the highest level of competition (something that currently doesn’t exist in BC, but is best represented by the $200 Million+ Pan Am Sports Centre in Toronto), and this led to some pretty significant discussion about how far we could afford to go that way while still meeting the desires of the community for a family-friendly recreational facility, within reasonable budget expectations.

The purpose of this stage of public consultation was to hear if the draft plans that came out of the planning process hit the target the community and stakeholders were looking for. In that sense, it was anticipated that some push back from some users on the draft plans would occur. I think we got there from the community viewpoint, but the stakeholder side clearly needed more work. That is why we do this kind of consultation.

Competitive sports facilities are, by nature, regional. Sports programming rarely respects Municipal boundaries, and just as competitive curlers from across the region come to New West to curl at the Royal City Club and MsNWimby goes to Coquitlam to play in a women’s ice hockey league that suits her competitive level (wait – neither of those facilities are run by a City… never mind, let me continue my story here), we need to expect that all Cities will build facilities that will be used by people from outside that City.

I also need to clarify that the request from the Hyack Swim Club is not just “two more lanes”, and though the swim fees paid by Hyack Swim Club are definitely a significant part of our operational revenue, they will certainly not offset the increased capital cost of a larger facility. The request for two more lanes, a larger secondary pool to better accommodate warm-up and cool-down length swimming, significantly increased “wet” deck space, and some level of “dry” spectator seating represents a significant cost premium. I (speaking as one Councillor, this is, as always, not necessarily the opinion of all of Council) am not willing to compromise the community amenities that the community asked for to pay for that cost premium. Ultimately, this is a case where the public engagement is vital to decision making, and I cannot ignore the wants of the larger community when building the most expensive asset the City has ever built.

That said, if we accept that higher-level competition is a regional asset, it is reasonable to expect that the region help pay for it. All along, the City has been working towards senior government assistance to build this facility, through the promised federal Infrastructure Grants program and affiliated provincial programs to support recreation and community assets and community reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. I think we have developed a program that will very closely meet the expected criteria for federal infrastructure funds. These, matched with provincial funds, may give us the financial space to build the expanded region-serving competitive facility, while not compromising on the recreational facility the community clearly wants, and not overly burdening our (still stretched) capital budget.

So the path forward the City has chosen is to continue to work towards an expanded facility that will support higher-level competition (one the Hyack Swim Club expressed unbridled support for at their public delegation last week), and the community recreation that the public engagement outlined, and hope that senior government grants will be sufficient to make it viable. We will continue to hold the current more recreationally-focused program as a fall back in the event we are unsuccessful in receiving sufficient senior government support.

The good news is that we now have a well-supported plan to move forward, and can do some of the extra work we need to do to get this project “shovel ready” enough to get those grants. To quote someone more profound than me: Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is the end of the beginning.

And I’ll write one more post about this pool in the next few days (yes, I’ll get to your question, Jason), but this one is long enough for now!

Compromise

The existing Skate Park at Mercer Stadium is now closed, as the school district is busy building a high school on that spot. Recognizing this was coming, the City put some money in to the capital budget to build a replacement. The replacement will be bigger and more modern than the old skool bowl at Mercer, and it took more than year to work with the skate community and other stakeholders to figure out the best compromise between various potential locations. The best solution found was the old Arenex location at Queens Park, in an area of the park designated for “active recreation” in the Queens Park Master Plan.

As there was some community concern related to this location during the community and stakeholder consultation, staff did extra outreach, design and engineering work to specifically address the concerns raised by some existing park users. With this work done, they came to Council in Monday last to ask for the go-ahead to procure the works, in the hopes we can get the new facility in the ground this summer.

I received a lot of correspondence on this proposal. At least 60 e-mails, some in favour; most opposed. An online petition was circulated and apparently collected hundreds of signatures in opposition to the proposal though I have to note that I haven’t seen or been provided any such list. Frankly, I was dismayed by much of what I read in that correspondence. I’m not going to call anyone out by name here, but the quotes speak for themselves:

I am concerned about cadet safety and potential conflict that could arise between the cadets and skateboard park users

It will just lead to conflict between young people and theatre goers.

The theatre building will be a prime target for graffiti.

With the legalization of marijuana, the theatre faces the possible smell of skunk to the west

I believe having a skate park within Queens Park anywhere would be a detriment to the Park. It is a beautiful quiet family park and not suited to a skate park at all.

There are many (most) residents in new Westminster who would have it (the skateboard park) done away with if they could, so please do not create more ill will between your mature, working, VOTING citizens and youth.

To quote the staff report on the last round of Public Consultation “In summary the stakeholder’s concerns include personal safety for other park users, risk of vandalism, potential for bullying of youth aged members of some organizations, perceptions of noise generated at the site, potential for vandalism/ graffiti

I’ll talk about the noise concern further down, but before I get there, I have to admit that just reading this correspondence completely took me aback, and made it hard for me to remain objective. The narrative presented offers an archaic and uninformed attitude about roller sports. Skating (along with bmx/trials, scooting, blading) is a healthy, creative athletic activity enjoyed by youth and adults. Characterizing an entire group of recreation users as troublemakers not deserving of sharing in our parks use because they are vaguely threatening is, in short, offensive to my definition of community. So, to be really honest here, I probably went into Monday’s meeting with a frame of mind shaped by this, and that no  doubt influenced my decision making. But let’s step back a bit.


When planning for a facility like this, or any facility in a City Park, there is a lot of work done before we get to a meeting like last Monday. Staff, user groups, stakeholders, consultants, and Council have been working on this for more than a year. I appreciate people wanting to get engaged in a decision like this, but people joining at the 11th hour need to recognize that your new idea has most likely already been evaluated. The City evaluated every piece of available City-owned land between Grimston and Hume Parks, between (to borrow a phrase) 10th and the Fraser, for this facility, and none were perfect. However, I can confidently say, having been involved in this discussion for more than year, that all other options had more net negatives than the final proposed location. The proposed place was not the perfect place, it was the least non-perfect place. That is the reality of how a consultative City works – every decision is a compromise of least-perfect solutions.

That said, the proposed location was a good one, worthy of support.

In speaking to the Skate community, it was clear that by putting a roller sport facility (like any other facility primarily directed at youth) at front and centre in a public place, you not only show you are inviting that activity into your community, but you generate interest, curiosity, and engagement, and build the sport. We hear too much these days that youth have limited opportunity or interest in unstructured outdoor activity (or “getting off their screens”, in the parlance of the day). Roller sport are exactly the kind of creative, athletic, unstructured, knee-scabbing and dexterity-building activity we lament youth not doing enough of, yet we have adults here trying to marginalize the activity by wanting it put “somewhere else” where they don’t have to see, walk or even park near it. Sorry, that argument doesn’t work for me.

Knowing this issue was emerging, I have spent some time in the last little while dropping by the old Mercer skate bowl and the All-Wheel Park at the Queensborough Community Centre. Every time I went by there, there were users of a variety of ages, from 4 year olds on scooters to adults teaching their kids how to board. There were parents watching their kids be active and creative in the outdoors. None of them felt this was an unsafe place. I think all of them would be offended to hear they (and their kids) were being dismissed as threatening to other parks users. The New West Police and the staff at the Queensborough Community Centre were both consulted on conflict issues that we may need to mitigate if we move the facility to Queens Park, and both said, plain and simple, there are none. The City’s skate parks are not havens of hooliganism and trouble.

There is a reason for that. Rolling sports are not a fringe activity like it may have been 25 years ago. This is a mainstream sport. Its culture has evolved to one of creativity, community support, and partnership. When I found out that roller sports are going to be in the Olympics in 2020, and tried to square this with the non-competitive/cooperative nature of the community, it reminded me of something I noticed at the Winter Olympics this year. In the new Snowboard/Slopestyle/Cross type sports, there was a noticeably strong comradery in these sports. The person finishing fourth in the Skicross ran up to hug the gold medalist from another country; every slick run was rewarded by high-fives from competitors, every sick crash with a pat on the back or a hug. The kids today are different than us; dare I say better.

This was manifest in the correspondence I received in favour of putting the park in Queens Park. Again, no names:

Placing the new skate park in the centre of Queens Park would profoundly and positively impact the New West community and increase acceptance and diversity for youth in New West. I believe it is the responsibility of our Mayor and Council to practice inclusivity towards more unique recreational activities that are popular among our youth.”

“I believe that placing the skate park in Queens Park would demonstrate the city’s celebration of diversity as well as honouring positive activities. It would set an example for all of our youth to see adults value the well-being, health, and enjoyment of young people. Skate Parks are a beautiful place that may invite people across many different socioeconomic backgrounds in New West to enjoy being outside, and foster belonging within our community

Given the wide range of existing facilities and user groups within Queens’ Park, our community has demonstrated it’s belief in the importance of public spaces being fully inclusive of different expressions of arts, culture, leisure and recreation. This is an opportunity to welcome a new user group and demographic to Queen’s Park and enrich its uniqueness, while contributing to its cultural legacy

Now that I have disclosed by biases (and how they were developed as we went through this process), we can talk about the decision made on Monday.


There were some legitimate concerns raised about this site: most notably the potential for noise impacts on the Bernie Legge Theatre. Recognizing these concerns when raised by stakeholders, the City paused the process and hired an acoustical engineer to evaluate the impacts. The report acknowledged that the skate park would create noise, measured it, and evaluated two ways to mitigate it. If the skate bowl was oriented towards the north, and a berm were built on the south side, the noise of the park (and other significant ambient sounds such as whistles on the soccer pitch and traffic on McBride) would be abated, making the theatre actually quieter than it is now. Alternately, the City could invest a little money in providing some improvements to the theatre including weather stripping and solid-core doors, which would effectively reduce ambient noises and the skate park form impacting theatre operations. The report from staff recommended the City do both of these, to double the sound baffling effect to give the theatre patrons an extra measure of confidence. This proposal would have resulted in a quieter Bernie Legge Theatre experience than there is now.

There were also some concerns about parking and pedestrian circulation around the Theatre. Again, the report proposed designating parking spots adjacent to the skate park, and improving pedestrian flow and surfaces between the parking lot, the theatre and the Cadets building. The proposal would have actually improved the very things the stakeholders were concerned about.

So the location was good for the user group, the legitimate concerns raised by the stakeholders could be and would be mitigated at the cost of the City, actually resulting in a quieter theatre with better parking access and pedestrian amenities. I don’t know why I would vote against this proposal.


After hearing a dozen delegations at Council, however, a “compromise” location was proposed. I could not support it. Here is why.

After more than a year of work, and a concerted effort to evaluate all positive and negative impacts of different locations, finding a design that fits the space and takes advantage of a current unused and unprogrammed part of the park, and after delaying to hire professional engineers to develop scientifically-defensible mitigation measures to address legitimate concerns, Council came up with a knee-jerk “compromise location” 30-40m to the west where there is a grove of trees and old tennis courts (the actual location is a little vague), which we have asked Staff to move ahead with “if technically feasible”. To be clear – no-one in that meeting knew exactly what footprint we are talking about, and no-one has any idea what “technically feasible” means, or what compromises will need to be made to accommodate this plan.

This “compromise location” is clearly an ill-informed compromise. It is not (as it was touted at the meeting) a “win-win”. It was, in my opinion, a result of treating the wants and needs of one user group with lesser regard than the wants and needs of another group, even after significant efforts to address the concerns of that second group resulted in a well-developed strategy to address their valid concerns and then some. Make no mistake, there is a lot potential loss in this “win-win”.

We don’t know what the skate community lost yet. Best case scenario, only a couple more months of being without a facility to practice their recreation. Potentially, this may be a much longer time if engineering or other concerns pop up. The “if technically feasible” caveat is a vague and compromising one in the world of engineering, and a terrible piece of guidance for professional staff (technically feasible at any cost? Regardless of other impacts?). After more than a year of work, the vision developed will be unnecessarily delayed and potentially compromised because of a last-minute knee jerk reaction that received far, far less technical scrutiny or input from stakeholders and user groups. That is a terrible way to make decisions.

Even worse: The potential impact on non-skaters has now not been fairly assessed. What of the users of the tennis courts and picnic area that will now be removed? Honestly, we don’t even know if moving the Skate Park to this “compromise location” will make the noise impacts on the theatre better or worse. It is entirely possible (and quite likely) that an earthen berm would have deadened sound much better than an extra 30m in distance. We do not have any evaluation of the opportunity cost of the “compromise location”. Basically, we cannot demonstrate any actual benefit of this location to anyone, other than salving a vague feeling that “they” need to be kept further away from “us”.

Best case scenario, staff will not run into any problems shoehorning a well-developed plan into a “compromise location”, and after only a couple of months delay, we will get a fully functional park up and running. Best case scenario, the new location will not create unanticipated impacts on other users of the park that require further mitigation. I am an optimist, and I sincerely hope this best case is realized. But in the decision we made on Monday, and the way we made it, Council did nothing to assure this happens.

CGP2?

At the last meeting of 2017, Council received a presentation on the work done by staff, consultants, and the Mayors Task Force on a replacement facility for the Canada Games Pool. Here is my summary of the report, and where we are at on this project (through my eyes, at least).

There is quite a bit of background in the reports presented, but the short version is that Council evaluated refurbishment and replacement options for the Canada Games Pool back in 2015. At that time, the cost for some of the significant mechanical and structural work on the facility was larger than Council was willing to invest in the aged facility. So work began in planning for a replacement and determining if the Centennial Community Centre should be involved in that replacement program, as it was similarly approaching end-of-life for many of its components.

Council and staff worked together on setting some conditions around which future planning should occur. Work was done on a site analysis to determine if the pool should be moved (in the end, the business case did not support changing locations), and how/if to support existing programs during replacement (Council committed to not demolishing the old pool building until the new is built to maintain continuity in programming).

Around the same time, a large public consultation and stakeholder engagement program (“Your Active New West”), engaged the community in discussions around what types of programs the new facility must have, what programs would be nice to have, and what the community was less committed to. The members of Council also toured a number of relatively recent pool and recreation centres around the Lower Mainland, from Coquitlam to West Vancouver, to hear from other communities what worked well and what didn’t in their facilities. A few of us even toured a facility outside Ottawa during last year’s FCM meeting.

There was also a forward-looking needs analysis completed, looking at facility use now (at CGP and other regional aquatic facilities) by the numbers, and projected 30 years into the future. This included demographics on the types of users, facility capacities, and such to provide solid data to back up the expressed desires of the community, and support a business case for operating an expanded recreation facility. “Build it and they will come” is often true, but we need a defensible business case both to demonstrate due diligence, and to bolster our applications for senior government support.

With all of this in hand, the Task Force worked with a team of consultants to develop a proposed program for a new combined Aquatic Centre and Recreation facility. This proposed program is laid out in the detailed Feasibility Study you can read here.

From all of that, the current proposal is to build a natatorium (word of the day!) of similar scale as the Hillcrest Centre build in Vancouver in 2011: a competition-sized tank (8 full-width lanes, 54m long), with a movable floor on one half to provide flexibility of programming, and a separate large (~450 person) leisure pool primarily for family fun, but to also accommodate some (short) lane swimming. The proposal also includes two high-school sized gymnasiums, a fitness/exercise centre more than twice the current capacity, a childcare centre, and 8 very flexible multi-purpose rooms of varying size to accommodate the types of programs the Centennial Centre does now. Throw in change rooms, office space, and common areas, and you have 114,000 square feet of community centre.

Amongst the many issues that the Task Force have worked on is how to fit that much building on a relatively constrained space. Keeping the existing facilities operating was important, and much of the area where the current parking lot and gravel field are cannot be built upon because of a buried Metro Vancouver sewer line and geotechnical concerns. The Firehall (it is almost new) and the Curling Rink (the City doesn’t own the building) aren’t going anywhere, though the recycling yard may me movable. With traffic access, CPTED, and logistics of construction, the site is very constrained.

As I’m making these points, I need to emphasize that the design and layout suggested in the feasibility study are preliminary and diagrammatic. We don’t yet know what this building will look like in any detail, as we simply are not there yet in the iterative process of design, budget, and construction. However, we know what we want to build, and we know we can make it fit, so now is a good time to take this back out to the public and do a check-in before going forward to the next steps.

There will be public consultation happening early in 2018, but this will be somewhat different than the previous community discussion in 2016-2017. This will be more of a check in to assure we have hit the mark from the earlier consultations, not a time to go back to the drawing board that we already spent a year scribbling on. We also need to start the discussion about how we are going to pay for this.

The budget estimates (and yes, these are early estimates suitable to the early part of the iterative design and planning process we are going through, subject to change for various reasons within and outside of the control of Council) is that the entire centre will cost between $85 and $100 Million. When offering a preliminary estimate, we try to include reasonable contingencies, and are budgeting in 2020 dollars to account for some inflation. However, building costs do not necessarily track the CPI, and anyone trying to hire a contractor right now knows it is  a crazy hot and expensive building market in Greater Vancouver right now. Needless to say, this will be the single largest capital investment ever made by the City of New Westminster.

Council and staff have reason to be confident that the program proposed will qualify for some senior government grants, and potentially some significant Federal Infrastructure dollars. It ticks all the right boxes that the federal program has outlined (inclusive and accessible community infrastructure, improved recreational and social opportunities, significant energy efficiency gains and reduction in GHGs). That said, we cannot move ahead assuming those monies will arrive. We are required to put together a 5-year capital plan that shows we have demonstrated our ability to pay for this, and that will inevitably involve dipping into reserves, some debt financing, and tax increases. There’s no way around that.

So over to you. Public engagement is coming in January, and in the meantime will be doing some more technical work on things like geotechnical constraints, parking needs, and some sustainability targets for the building (is LEED Gold the right standard?). We will also be preparing to submit grant applications to senior governments when the windows open (if you know anyone in Victoria or Ottawa, put in a good word for us!). This is a big project, and an exciting time for the City. Let’s hear what you think. It is important to let Council know what you like and if you support this project, and to let us know if you have concerns.

Ask Pat: Arenex Replacement

TM asked—

I understand that an interim structure is going to be built in Queens park as a temporary replacement for the Arenex. Is there any idea how much this new structure will cost and how much money will remain for a future building? As well, will the cost of demolition and 24/7 security monitoring of the old site be deducted from the money received from insurance?

I’m going to be a bit less definitive than usual in answering your questions, because City hasn’t made all of the decisions on this yet.

This would also be a good time to explain to folks that some discussions that take place between the City and suppliers (like insurance companies, building contractors, etc.) may be protected by Section 90 of the Community Charter. Under Provincial Law, there are some types of negotiations that happen between the City and private businesses that are necessarily kept secret so as to not put the City in a poor negotiating situation, expose the City to liability, or undermine the confidence of potential suppliers. The results of these “in-camera” discussions are always made public if and when a decision is made (we cannot spend any money without including it in our publicly-released financial documents, and our procurement processes are always released), but during the negotiations, it is commonly required to keep things under wraps. By Section 90, talking about “in-camera” discussions, even providing some details about what topics were discussed “in-camera“, is illegal until those discussions are raised out of “camera”

With that caveat in mind (whats with all the Latin today?) we did make an announcement back in June (which is around the time you sent in this Ask Pat – yes, I am sorry for not getting to it until now!) that we would fast-track the building of a “temporary” structure to replace the bulk of the Arenex functions, and that building should be operational in the summer of 2018. It will be about twice the size of the Arenex, which should make it a more usable space for some of the gymnastics programs, with some leftover space that may have flexible uses. This building should cost less than the insured replacement value of the Arenex, but at this point, I can’t really provide you exact numbers around this, because I haven’t seen those numbers.

An interesting point coming out of the work staff have been doing is that these “temporary” suspended steel structures have a design life of better than 20 years. They can last significantly longer with maintenance investments. The bigger advantage to us is that the site prep work is simpler than building a new “permanent” structure, and what you may lose in flexibility during the design and procurement stage, you get in efficiency of getting a building on-line. So it is possible that this “temporary” structure will provide gym spaces and other space for decades to come.

The City also went through a bit of a consultation process with stakeholders and an on-line survey back in May to guide us towards permanent solutions. The main questions were around how the Arenex loss should inform our plans for a Canada Games Pool replacement. I think CGP planning after the extensive consultation completed last year is coming along well (I am on the Mayor’s CGP Task Force), and I suspect we will be in a position to make some public announcements about that program before the end of the year. By then, we will have a better understanding about what programming will go where during the CGP/Centennial Community Centre replacement works, and where things will be when the work is completed. A “temporary” Arenex replacement opens up several options to maintain program continuity during the construction phase.

On our last question, I can only speak in generalities, but I have learned quite a bit since this event occurred about how the City insures its major assets. Insured building replacement value (which may or not be the true cost-of-replacement of the structure) is generally separate from other line items related to loss or damage to a building like business interruption,  demolition, contents, engineering reviews, liability, etc. Hence, coverage for security or demolition costs would not be deducted from the replacement cost of the building, just as ICBC would not typically deduct the cost of providing a rental car from your car’s replacement value if your car was stolen.

Ask Pat: Anvils and elephants

Duke of Belyea asks—

Hi Pat, perhaps the notion of the Anvil Center being a white elephant could be dispelled if you or the City could show the actual revenue/expense numbers for the facility.

First, on the premise, I disagree with you. Second, on the solution, I wish it was that simple.

I do not think critics of the Anvil Centre (or indeed critics of Council) will ever be convinced that it is anything but a white elephant. Specific residents of Coquitlam will write occasional long-winded factually-challenged screeds to the Record for some time, using the Anvil as an example of New Westminster’s failures, regardless of any success seen around or within the Anvil. That is just political bullshit theatre we need to live with, and facts will not change it, because the Anvil is more than building, it is a totem around which previous elections were fought and lost. Some people never stop fighting yesterday’s battles.

The premise further relies on measuring the success or failure of Anvil on a balance sheet of effort-in & revenue-out. I simply don’t see it that way. To explain that, we need to clarify what the Anvil is, and what a City does.

For one building, The Anvil Centre has purposes to fill a long paragraph (noting, for full disclosure, that I was not on Council when these conversations and decisions were made):

The Office Tower was conceived as an economic driver for Downtown, but since the City sold it off for more than it cost to build (success?), the City no longer had much say in how it is operated. The owners have every right to set their rent and manage their incentives any way they see fit, regardless of whether it serves the larger purposes of the City. The restaurant space is finally leased, and although later than we may have liked, I think we will have an operating restaurant that fills a niche in the City, brings attention to Columbia and 8th, and becomes a revenue driver for the City. I’m not sure how you measure the success of the shift of the Museum, Archives, and Lacrosse Hall of Fame to this venue. They have been relocated from various other locations to a central cultural hub, which also freed up space in those other venues. The New Media Gallery has quickly become one of the region’s most important artistic venues, drawing visitors and raves from around the region. Conference services are on or ahead of target for bookings and revenues, the program at the Theatre is (slowly) coming along, and the numerous arts and culture programs on the 4th floor are similarly starting to fulfill the original vision for activating the Arts in our City. All of these tangible purposes are wrapped up in the larger benefit of turning a windfall (the DAC funding) into a community asset to replace a failing retail strip at the renewed gateway to our central business district.

This brings us to your solution to the inevitable political push-back: a simple spreadsheet that outlines the costs and recoveries from the Anvil. I suppose it is doable, as the City’s Financial Plan and backing documents are openly reported, and every input and output is buried in those spreadsheets somewhere. But it would be really complicated, simply because the Anvil is not a single entity operating separate from the rest of the City.

The museum and archives have always cost money to operate; moving them to the Anvil doesn’t change that. The old Hall of Fame site is now home to a very popular and revenue-generating recreation program: is that success part of the Anvil, though it is located at the Centennial Community Centre? The City’s Arts Programmer works out of the Anvil, but also administers the City’s Public Art program, which is funded through a combination of fees, sales revenues, and taxes – how does that balance sheet overlap with Anvil’s? Even the Conference Services, which are a revenue-generation aspect of the Anvil, share resources with other departments (especially the theatre and our catering contractor), and rely on an integrated operation to be successful. There are staff who spend part of their time doing Anvil-related things, and part of their time working at other facilities, just as the toilet paper and photocopier toner at Anvil are bought as part of City-wide operations. The tax revenue for the office tower is higher than it was when the space was a one-story retail space, but that tax enters general revenue, and needs to be measured against opportunity cost if a private developer had taken over that site… the list goes on.

I guess it sounds like I am creating a list of excuses of why not, instead of addressing your original concern. Lyrical gentlemen from Coquitlam will accuse me of “spinning” the facts here for political reasons – the same way they would accuse any spreadsheet produced of doing the same thing. So if you want a spreadsheet to solve a political problem, I suggest it won’t work. So why spend valuable staff time producing it?

I tend to agree with one idea buried in your premise, and maybe an answer to that last question: we need to find a better way to share our financial information in the City. Although all reporting is “open”, I am afraid our efforts towards “transparency” is a little clouded by the complicated way that Public Service Accounting Standards are regulated and performed. Even as a City Councillor exposed to this stuff all day, I am sometimes challenged to create connections between line items in spreadsheets. There is a lot of Accountant Talk here, and with all due respect to the profession, they are no better than others at explaining to lay people just what the hell they are doing. I’m not sure what the answer is from a public engagement viewpoint, but suspect (hope?) we can do better. I’m just not sure it will ever be enough to satisfy some Letter-to-the-Editor authors, and maybe that shouldn’t be our goal. However, we do need to find ways to translate our financial reporting so residents and businesses can be confident that their money is being spent wisely.

I am pretty sure of one thing: any honest accounting would reveal the City spends more money on operations at the Anvil than it receives in revenue from Anvil operations. Just as it spends more money on the Canada Games Pool than revenue earned, or the all-weather playing field at Queens Park, or the Queensborough Community Centre, or the Library. I suppose there is a discussion that could be had about which of these operations community assets would need to show a financial profit to be considered “successful” in the City, but I don’t think that is where you were going with this question.

I also think there are improvements we can do to make Anvil run better, especially in opening up the first floor to more public use and making the entire centre more inviting. That is an ongoing discussion, and one very much worth having.

Ask Pat: The Sub

Eric asks—

Ahoy Capt. Re: Das Sub

Great the Quayside playground is up for a needed rebuild. Has “what do we do with the submarine” come up?

After all this item has quietly slipped into historic artefact/ community heritage resource status.

We all know it came from Expo ’86. What might not be as well known: it was from a West Edmonton Mall attraction (at the time the mall had more working subs than the Cdn. navy); at Expo it was part of the brilliant public art piece Highway ’86 by James Wise of SITE, a cutting edge design firm all us young architects were in awe of.

The sub was the largest of dozens of transportation, including a tricycle and an aeroplane, all painted matte grey and set on an undulating grey asphalt “road”.

How about we hand the sub over to the Public Art Cttee. to reprise/resurface it in a new location? Our local transpo crowd – including a certain councillor- might get right into it.

Yes, the topic of saving or moving the semi-Sub has come up. Staff have even spent a bit of time looking at potential options. However, at the risk of sounding like a boo-bird, I need to point out some of the significant technical challenges staff have related to me about trying to save and/or move the Sub.

The Sub can’t stay where it is. The storm drainage pipe under it needs to be excavated and replaced, that is not an optional thing, but something the City needs to get done before compete failure of the pipe and related flooding. Try trying to remove the sub in one piece presents several challenges (not to mention the unknown unknowns, to borrow a phrase). It will need to be separated from the foundation built to support it, and the entire concrete-over-steel structure would have to be lifted and moved, which if not done with great care (read: expense) may end the entire “in one piece” part of the discussion.

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The Submarine itself would need extensive restoration if it was to be made a permanent art installation, as the steel is not in great shape based on the concrete delamination and spalling – the piece was built for a 6-month installation 30 years ago. The modifications of it to install it in the park (removal of the wings, installation of the railing) probably didn’t help, nor did the various coats of paint that are now peeling off of, regardless is whether the concrete overcoast comes with it or not. We currently have no budget for, and have not even had evaluated, the form of this restoration, however safe to say it will be significant.

We have nowhere to put the submarine. If we remove it, we would need to find a place to store it where it can be protected from the elements, and where restoration work can happen. Unless a generous benefactor with spare warehouse space was to come along, I’m not sure where we can do this.

Finally, and this is, unfortunately, the biggest issue with all of the above – we have very little time to get the pipe replacement work done. As much of the drainage involves an excavation within the wetted area of the river, the work needs to be done within a “fisheries window” – a short period of time when Fisheries and Oceans Canada have given us permission to do the work in order to minimize the disruption of fisheries habitat and the injury of fish. Again, this is not something we have any control over, and that is creating a very, very tight timeline for the work, and it will be starting very soon. An extra week or two to design, coordinate and execute a potentially delicate removal plan for a piece we have no long-term plans for would be perilous. Never mind trying to find the (estimated – with significant contingency) tens of thousands of dollars to do the removal work.

As for the Heritage value, there already was a preliminary assessment of the Sub. The value is considered very limited and “sentimental”, but not representing a significant heritage artifact. Its provenance is not New Westminster, and it is separated from its context. Although there are legends about a connection to West Edmonton Mall, in reality the submarine was the only machine of the 200 that made up the Highway 86 installation that wasn’t a real, operating machine before it was installed. It is a semi-sub; half of a fake boat. The “U” in this U-boat stands for “Unecht”. You get the message.

That said, on kitsch value alone I’m not opposed to the idea, and wish we had more time to allow someone passionate about such a plan to cook up a solution to the above concerns. Problem is, this project has been discussed and on the books for many months (including a few public consultation rounds and public meetings), and the topic of saving the submarine has not been put forward as an important component of the engineering work or playground replacement. I also touched bases with a few people in the Publci Art realm, and they were… underwhelmed. Unfortunately, we are now well past the eleventh hour, and jeopardizing the timeline and budget of the planned work for the site at this point would be irresponsible.

So in sumary, I’m going to suggest this is an interesting idea, likely impractical, definitely costly, and probably undoable considering the pressures on the City to get the engineering work at the Quayside done. I would suggest the submarine is finally heasded off towards the sunny horizon it has pointed at for more than a generaiton: the metal recycling and junkyards south of the Fraser.

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ASK PAT: The Timber Wharf

Daniel asks—

Can we do something with the giant paved lot near Westminster Pier Park (where the shipping container W is)? It’s such a waste of space. Westminster Pier Park is amazing but i think the area could really use more grass space to lay down, play some bocce, toss a football around etc…Another suggestion would be providing additional basketball court(s), tennis courts. There is a real dearth of outdoor sport facilities in the downtown area. Could this empty lot not be temporarily re-purposed into any of these things rather than just the empty black surface it is now? Love what the city has done by putting volleyball courts adjacent to that lot, but are there plans to re-purpose the other lot as well?

We call that part of the park the “Timber Wharf”. My understanding of the history of the space (and this was before my time on Council) is that it was originally going to be programmed as part of the Pier Park project, but that got scaled back during the park development because of unexpected environmental remediation costs that stressed the budget, and generally unfavorable geotechnical assessments for that part of the wharf. The underpinnings are not in great shape, and are going to need some repairs and upgrades before the space is permanently programmed or anything heavy is placed on it, hence the temporary installations there now.

The longer-term plan is to program that space, which will make it more amenable for some of the uses you describe, but I think the priorities for spending right now are in trying to connect the park to the east to complete that part of the waterfront connection to Sapperton Landing and the Brunette River. The capital cost of upgrading the timber wharf isn’t in the budget right now, so I suspect the “permanent” fix is going to have to wait a few years.

In the shorter term, I would love to hear suggestions about temporary programming. We are pretty limited in regards to installing anything of significant mass (the engineering hassles with WOW New West were… substantial), and are even unlikely to be able to smooth the asphalt surface much, but paint and temporary installations are possible if we can find a bit of room the Parks budget.

This also gives me a chance to promote two cool things going on in that area in the very short term – like right now!.

Through a partnership with Live 5-2-1-0, Kids New West, Fraser Health, and School District 40, a Play box is being installed at the Timber Wharf. This is a box full of toys, balls, and outdoor games to help kids get active and have fun in the relatively un-programmed space. It is free to use, and will be opened every morning and re-secured at night. This is the first time this public playbox program has come to New West, although it has been successful in a few other nearby municipalities. If you have kids, take them down and see what may emerge!

There is no better time to go down to the Timber Wharf and check it out than during the Pier2Landing street party coming up on June 19th. We are going to be encouraging people to take advantage of the currently-closed stretch of Front Street that connects the east end of the Pier Park with the west end of Sapperton Landing Park. There will be live entertainment and arts and booths and a BBQ and the usual street festival stuff, but there will also be a lot of open road space on Front where you can bring your own entertainment (road hockey, anyone?). We can look ahead to a me when these two waterfront parks are connected by an urban greenway. Or we can dream of a time when Front Street is no longer a regional through-fare, but is an active street connecting residents to the waterfront – even those who choose to not strap themselves to a couple of tonnes of carbon-spewing steel and plastic first…

Dare to dream.

Ask Pat: Crappy Park

Someone asked—

Hi Pat, I am just inquiring about Sullivan Park on Oliver Street here in the Queen’s Park neighbourhood. It is a lovely park and really close to our home. However, I am noticing that there is a lot of dog dropping being left all around the park. I am not sure if this particular park is monitored but something needs to be done. It is horrible. I refuse to take my 14 month old there anymore as I am worried he is going to fall into it.. or worse. Anything you can do for us?

Shh! I didn’t think we were allowed to talk about Sullivan Park. It’s one of those neighbourhood secrets that we aren’t supposed to let anyone know about.

One general rule about a persistent dog-crap problem in a location is that it is probably just one person. Most dog owners are responsible and don’t want crap lying around any more than the rest of us, but one or two bad apples definitely can result in a lot of… uh… road apples. Unfortunately, catching that one person is probably near impossible.

My first suggestion is to use SeeClickFix when you run into a problem like this, to make sure it gets onto the City operations radar. If you aren’t a smart-phone lover, you can use this on-line form to make sure your issue gets tracked and followed up on. Or call Parks, Culture and Recreation at 604-527-4567.

What can Parks do? That is definitely a small park, and we have limited staff, so 24-hour patrols are not likely in the offing. I am not as familiar with Sullivan Park as my Queens Park neighbours, but having a doggie station with a ready source of collection bags, trash receptacle and signage will usually help most people do the right thing – if the park doesn’t have these at the one or two most common entry point, that may help. Of course, it may also encourage more people to see Sullivan as an unofficial “dog run”, which comes with its own issues.

As it is a unique spot, with a relatively small group of users (until you went and let the secret out!), it might be interesting to see if the neighbourhood has any ideas how to approach the issue. Better signage? Neighbourhood dog-watch? As a non-dog owner, I’m happy to hear suggestions!