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Lewis Centre project jumps hurdle at Courtenay council meeting

Courtenay Coun. Doug Hillian's son met his best friend at kindergym at the Lewis Centre when he was three.

He shared that story Monday as an example of the kind of opportunities a community recreation centre can offer and an example of why the proposed expansion and renovation of the Lewis Centre is a good project.

Council gave the Lewis Centre renovation and expansion loan authorization bylaw first, second and third readings Monday.

The bylaw empowers council to carry out the Lewis Centre renovation and expansion project, to borrow $4.2 million and to acquire all property, easements, rights-of-way, licences and rights of authorities that might be needed for the project.

The bylaw must be approved by the Inspector of Municipalities and by the electors of Courtenay before being passed and adopted by council.

Public opinion can be gauged through the alternative approval process, in which elector response forms are sent to citizens. If more than 10 per cent of the electors state the matter is of such significance that a referendum should be held, then the local government cannot proceed with the proposed bylaw without holding a referendum.

Couns. Murray Presley and Larry Jangula opposed the bylaw.

Jangula was concerned the city was not making the borrowing a referendum item in November's municipal election, an option he feels would be simplest and cheapest.

"I'm not opposed to looking at this," he said. "I still think we need to go to the public."

Presley opposed the project because he feels items such as the nursery school and weight room compete with those same services offered by private enterprise.

"I still oppose this authorization of $4.2 million because I think we could do it cheaper by eliminating the different items that are done there in competition with private enterprise," he said.

Coun. Jon Ambler argued that "micromanaging" what happens inside the building can be dealt with at a later time.

"The renovation makes sense," he said. "No city ever regretted adding capacity. For the big picture, I'll be voting in favour of this."

Hillian pointed out if council were to go back and ask staff to come up with different plans that took out the nursery or weight room, it would delay the project and add costs to the design phase.

Jangula and Presley both pointed out that there are many expensive projects coming up in Courtenay and the surrounding area, including a new hospital, a new police building, a third crossing and a facelift to city hall.

"We're going to have to start saying no," said Jangula.

Coun. Ronna-Rae Leonard was eager to move forward with the project.

"I don't think for a second the services we provide can be offered by the private sector, and I don't think everyone can avail themselves of private enterprise," she said. "I think the waiting lists and amount of participation is why we need to move forward."

Leonard noted that with the alternative approval process, if there is a problem early on, there will be time to add a referendum in November.

Coun. Manno Theos agreed a referendum is a good idea, and he believed a referendum would pass based on the idea that a recreation centre is a core service.

"I look at a community rec centre as a core service of a community," he said.

The entire renovation and expansion 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.

writer@comoxvalleyrecord.com

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