Coun. Clare Cameron says she loves the sound of kids having fun, and she would like to see them able to make noise freely on the new skateboard park under construction in the Virgil Sports Park.
She thinks the skatepark will be a wonderful addition for the town, and in her mind, the heated discussion that followed a concern she introduced “is not, from my perspective, about whether or not we should have a skateboard park. The issue is location.”
It’s construction is well underway, and halting it is a suggestion she is not taking lightly, but as she explained to councillors Monday, if it’s in the wrong location, stopping it now is better than continuing, and ending up too late with a “boondoggle” that will impact neighbours.
She has two concerns, she says, the impact on nearby homes, and safety issues from the proximity to the pavilion, where families sometimes sit to enjoy a picnic, or may rent for a family gathering, and the nearby baseball diamond.
She has heard from residents who are concerned about the noise, she says, “and kids should have the freedom to have fun.”
But also of concern to her is the process of deciding the details of the park, and the location.
The previous council approved $150,000 in its 2018 budget, which was also included in this year’s budget, and the Virgil Business Association has donated $150,000 toward the $300,000 cost of the park. This council included $150,000 in the 2020 budget.
But she doesn’t recall, and can find no record of, this council ever discussing or approving the location of a “significant community facility,” one she believes has changed since earlier discussions.
There have been public discussions on Join the Conversation, on the Town’s website, open houses and “informal” reports about the park, but to her knowledge, never a formal report, discussion or a vote at council, the proper forum for making such decisions.
Other communities have gone through extensive processes of information-gathering to ensure skatepark locations are safe, she says, and the impact on nearby residents.
“I’m trying to ensure all residents are heard.” She is making a motion to get that discussion underway at the Aug. 24 council meeting, and she understands it may not be well-received. The point was made that there were opportunities for residents and councillors who have a problem with the location to state their concerns at an appropriate time for discussion.
Interim CAO Sheldon Randall says he wouldn’t recommend “putting the brakes” on the project, as Cameron is suggesting, and that there would be damages to the Town if they do, but it’s council’s decision if they wish to do so.
“To be honest, I’m shocked if councillors weren’t aware of what’s going on,” although other councillors are aware, Randall says.
To councillors who say “you didn’t know, it’s ridiculous,” says Coun. Erwin Wiens.
Couns. John Wiens, Gary Burroughs and Wendy Cheropita all supported Cameron’s request to put the project on hold for further discussion.
Phil Leboudec is a member of the VBA, but not speaking for the VBA, when he states his opposition to reopening the discussion, which began almost 10 years ago when the Town wanted the existing skateboard park moved to expand the operation yard.
He clarifies the skateboard park is a Town project that the VBA is helping to fund — it’s not a VBA project. The location chosen in the sports park is about as far away from any homes as it could be and still be in the park, he says, in the corral where the mud run and demolition derby, Virgil Stampede events, were held. That was the chosen location from the earliest days, although there have been other sites discussed and discarded, he says, because they were even closer to homes on the perimeter of the park.
“You live in the park, and you complain about noise from kids in the park?,” he questions. “There are no lights proposed for the area, there is no provision for keeping it open after dusk.”
As someone who has worked hard at stampede fundraising events for years, Leboudec said he was blindsided by the discussion at council Monday, taken completely caught off-guard. “It doesn’t make sense, people complaining about kids doing sports in a sports park.”
Cameron was told Monday that by the time the Aug. 24 discussion occurs, the skateboard park could be finished, but she says her motion will include considering halting the project.
Decisions of such importance should not be made based on public input through Join the Conversation, she says. “If we’re going to spend $300,000, of Town and VBA funds, let’s get it right. It’s expensive, and it’s important to the community.”