Esquimalt council has voted to approve the construction of a multipurpose building and a three-zone fenced dog park in Esquimalt Gorge Park.
In a special council meeting, council voted to prioritize the dog park and multipurpose building over an elevated boardwalk at Saxe Point Park, which will be reconsidered if any funding remains. The $7 million in funding for waterfront improvements comes from the Capital Regional District (CRD)’s one-time $17 million grant offered for the use of McLoughlin Point for the region’s new wastewater treatment plant. Of that, $5 million will be reserved for downtown recreation facility improvements, and another $5 million to downtown emergency services and public safety facilities improvements.
Decisions were prompted by the fact that council must have construction completed, or commitments in place for development, before next year, otherwise the CRD has the right to take the funding back.
Coun. Ken Armour felt uncomfortable with the pressure to use the funding for a multipurpose building, saying that he’d rather leave the area as a greenspace.
“I’m fundamentally opposed to the concept of putting a man-made structure into a public park in a place where people should be able to enjoy nature without a public building there,” Armour said. “During a time when we’re declaring a climate emergency we’re putting in a building and more parking.”
Armour also expressed concern for the annual costs of the building, which could amount to $110,000 per year for janitorial, maintenance and set-up and break-down costs for special events.
He suggested forgoing the building altogether, which would result in forgoing $3.6 million in funding.
Coun. Meagan Brame offered another opinion.
“There’s a flip side to every coin,” she said. “One of the things I look at is we have many more residents moving into our community and to that part of the community with very little programming space. … Now, people could walk to those facilities and not always drive over to the rec centre.”
Coun. Lynda Hundleby was adamant about the importance of cultural recognition in the area which the multipurpose space could offer.
“I like the idea also that we will somehow commemorate the Japanese influence in that park,” Hundleby said. “I also feel that we need to honour our First Nations heritage that’s gone on there.”
Council voted to go ahead with the multipurpose building and a three-zone dog park. Now, staff will put out a request for proposal (RFP) for architectural service for building design and construction. Staff anticipate to award the contract by the end of the year.
Council also voted for staff to integrate an emergency coordination centre, commercial space and housing into the public safety building going in behind municipal hall. An RFP for consultation and design for this building has been put out and will be awarded this week, with a recommendation for architectural services likley to come forward on Feb. 24.