When a town bylaw officer told workers on the huge church under construction on York Road they had to pack up and leave the property, they did what they were told.
Grant McArthur was at Monday’s planning meeting to find out why, and what can be done to reverse that decision.
That’s a question that has been plaguing construction and other industries shut down by municipalities interpreting provincial regulations about essential and non-essential businesses.
In McArthur’s case, thousands of dollars are being lost daily, he told councillors, and have been since Jan. 21, when the town’s bylaw department shut the site down.
He can point to many projects in town and around the region that continue, he said, in each case, because they are considered essential. A church is not. However, in the case of the Central Community Church, 32 per cent of its space is for day care, and the provincial list of exceptions includes buildings that will provide day care space, licensed under provincial legislation.
It’s a new day care centre, slated to open this summer. When asked Monday night if the centre was licensed, McArthur said the application is in process. All spots, including the most needed spaces for infants, are filled, with parents anxious for it to open. McArthur says his wish is to have it stay open evenings until 9 p.m., which few day care centres do, making it easier for many parents who work evening hours.
The construction at York Road may comply with the day care provision if licensed under the Child Care and Early Years Act, said planning director Craig Larmour Tuesday morning, but “that has yet to be confirmed.”
An organization that is a registered charity is considered essential “if intended to provide shelter or supports for vulnerable persons,” says Larmour, but “there has been no indication that this project is intended for the purpose identified” under that description of an essential service.
McArthur explained Monday evening the work of the community church, and the reason for its large community centre and child care component. In his view, the community space for all kinds of sports programs and day camps will be helping vulnerable children. He refers to the need for opening it as a mental health issue, for all ages, from children to the elderly.
The biggest issue with the construction delay, which, if it continues, will likely see the crew moved to other projects, “is the health aspect” of what the community centre hopes to provide on the site, looking after children when their parents are at work, both through its day care and sports programming.
He spoke of the impact the pandemic is having on children and parents, and the importance of getting the centre open and operating for the summer.
“The church is for Sundays,” he said, the community centre, day care and programming for people of all ages, the rest of the week.
He assured councillors the construction site is an 80,000 square foot space with about 50 people working on it.
“We’ve been in a bubble and a very well-run bubble. This bubble that we’ve created is working in different departments, different areas of the building, and they go home and come back to the same project.”
These people are now looking to go and work elsewhere, and that controlled bubble becomes less controlled, he said.
There were no issues with the number of workers on the site or with safety protocols, Larmour said Tuesday.
Lord Mayor Betty Disero told McArthur she would contact the provincial minister of labour, Monte McNaughton, Tuesday, and asked McArthur to call her before that to further discuss his request.
She too questioned why a homeless shelter could be considered essential, but not a community centre, and mentioned many situations last spring, and some that continue today, such as dog grooming, that indicate the provincial regulations in place are not perfect, and have been “adjusted from time to time.” She said there are questions about the provincial regulations that need to be answered, and agreed with Coun. Gary Burroughs that a quick response is required.
Coun. Allan Bisback asked if “staff interpreted this appropriately,” and Larmour agreed that while the provincial regulations require some interpretations, “it’s fairly clear” on the type of construction that’s allowed to occur.