City council takes solid step forward


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Coun. Kris Desjarlais (Ward 2): “If we do vote for this, I’m hoping The Brandon Sun doesn’t say that we’ve kicked it down the road again. We made the right decision by delaying the decision on the Park Community Centre.”

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Coun. Kris Desjarlais (Ward 2): “If we do vote for this, I’m hoping The Brandon Sun doesn’t say that we’ve kicked it down the road again. We made the right decision by delaying the decision on the Park Community Centre.”

Brandon Mayor Jeff Fawcett: “They won’t be wrong if they do say that. But we’re owning it from here on in.”

— From Monday night’s Brandon City Council meeting

Brandon City Council once again pulled the Park Community Centre issue back from the brink on Monday night, amending a poorly drafted motion that came before council on Feb. 6 that would have outright rejected proposals to rebuild the facility and ended nearly four years of discussion surrounding its future.

Instead, council unanimously voted in favour of a revised version of the motion that stated council would explore the possibility of issuing a second request for proposals based on a “design, bid, build” method that would give it more control over the design and include an estimate of the cost before it goes out for bidding.

And in the meantime, Park Community Centre remains safe from the wrecking ball — at least for now, until council and the Park Community Centre board figure out what they want in a new structure, and once again decide whether to move ahead.

While this decision does push the community centre’s fate down the road once more, there’s little doubt that council made the correct decision. And I say that not just because Brandon’s core area needs a community centre and potentially a daycare facility, but rather because the entire process has been flawed from the very beginning.

A few councillors and members of the city’s administration have pointed to Brandon’s Recreation and Community Facilities Master Plan that was finalized and adopted by council in 2019 as a guiding principle of why the Park, South End, Central and West End community centres should be torn down. That master plan, which seems strangely at odds with the city’s 2016 Culture Plan, recommends the total number of community centres in Brandon be reduced to just five.

This, even though community members who participated in consultations for the creation of the recreation master plan told the city that community centres are a necessary part of local neighbourhoods.

Last year, we wrote about the fact that decisions about the demolition of the structure and the decision to replace it were being made by those in administration and council without consultation with the Park Community Centre board.

Administration then suggested that the issue of Park Community Centre be taken out of budget deliberations and become a standalone motion after the budget was finalized. And when the matter came up last month during the Feb. 6 council meeting, administration did not present the proposals received. Instead, administration came forward with a proposal to refuse the bids received, citing a $300,000 shortfall.

And it was also revealed that staff had not followed the order to solicit proposals for a 2,600-square-foot facility because they had — seemingly on their own — determined that a building with similar occupancy to the existing structure would have to be bigger due to changes to building codes.

Thankfully, councillors questioned the veracity of the motion and moved any decision to Monday’s council meeting. But whether by design or incompetence, this whole process has lacked transparency and factual information. As a result, council was backed into a difficult corner on Monday night, and was forced to conclude that the process should start over.

As the bridge between council and administration, it’s Mayor Fawcett’s job to ensure the flow of information between the two is smooth and transparent. Considering the messy situation that council encountered with Park Community Centre, it’s clear he needs to focus more attention on this aspect of his leadership. To witness such brinkmanship play out before the cameras over the last several months has not been encouraging.

To council’s credit, Monday night’s meeting brought forth possibly the most fruitful and interesting public discussion on the issue that we’ve seen in several years. It was refreshing, to be honest, and somewhat revealing when it comes to the thought processes of individual councillors.

But make no mistake, the end result of this new process that council has embarked upon could still result in the demolition of Park Community Centre without a replacement. City administration could cite increased costs, or poor design, or any number of reasons to not go ahead, and council members could still walk down that path.

Perhaps if and when city administrators finally apply for federal or provincial funds to move this project — and possibly others like it — forward, will we be better convinced of their intention to see the process through.

Nevertheless, Monday night’s decision was encouraging in that our mayor and council have finally taken ownership of the process. That is a solid step forward.

» Matt Goerzen, editor

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