Courtenay's 'social heart' slated for renovation, expansion

Next week, Courtenay council will begin taking steps to borrow $4.2 million to renovate and expand the Lewis Centre.

Council voted Monday to proceed with the Lewis Centre expansion project and to approve the use of $1 million of Community Works-Gas Tax Revenue funds toward the project to fund water conservation measures, energy conservation measures and ventilation system works.

The entire project is expected to cost about $5.4 million. City staff is projecting that $1 million would come from Community Works Fund gas tax reserves to fund mechanical and ventilation upgrades, while $4.2 million would come from new borrowing.

The first phase of the project includes work on a wellness centre, large and small multi-purpose rooms and storage, improved washrooms, designated staff spaces and an improved lobby space and entry.

In April, council approved the 2011-15 Financial Plan bylaw, which includes budget provisions for facility planning and design in 2011 and construction in 2012.

Since the Financial Plan Bylaw was adopted, staff have continued to fine tune the project details and costing and research funding opportunities that may be available.

Coun. Larry Jangula argued it would be more efficient and cost-effective to have a referendum on the borrowing, as it could be added to the ballot for November's municipal election.

"If we're all so sure the public will support this, why don't we put it as a referendum?" he asked.

Another option for borrowing is the alternative approval process. In this process, a referendum is prompted when 10 per cent or more of municipal electors object to the borrowing.

Jangula was concerned that if 10 per cent of electors objected during the alternate approval process, the City would end up spending a lot of money and going through two processes.

Coun. Ronna-Rae Leonard supported the alternative approval process.

"If you have a referendum, you need information, and you end up with organizations doing marketing on the issue," she said. "We're not looking a lot beyond basic need right now. For that, I do support alternate approval so it doesn't become an onerous marketing issue for basic needs."

Coun. Doug Hillian noted the public will have two opportunities to comment on this if the city begins the borrowing process this month — during the process and during the election.

"I would contend that what we're doing here is not bringing in a new idea that we are imposing on the community ... we are taking a building everyone knows and reinvesting in it," he said.

Coun. Jon Ambler was keen to proceed with the project, noting that council is aware of health and safety issues at the Lewis Centre and knowing that, should move ahead to rectify them.

"A recreation facility is a core element; therefore, it's appropriate we take action on this," he said. "A great recreation facility is important to quality of life."

The Lewis Centre is the "social heart" of Courtenay, Randy Wiwchar, the city's director of community services, told council.

"The Lewis Centre is more than a recreation centre," he said. "It's more than a gymnasium, more than a weight room."

Other than offering program opportunities and activities to all age groups, the Lewis Centre is also the central hub for volunteerism, and it is the centre for special needs programs for the entire Comox Valley, explained Wiwchar.

More than 30 organizations and groups use the Lewis Centre on a regular basis for meetings, and an additional 40-plus groups use the outdoor amenities such as the tennis courts, he noted.

The Lewis Centre is also home to many community events such as July 1st celebrations and Comox Valley KidsFest, and it partners with the Downtown Courtenay Business Improvement Association on a number of events, he added.

Coun. Murray Presley voted against proceeding with the renovation/expansion.

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