As the deadline approaches, momentum is building for Brett Hall’s efforts to force a referendum in Courtenay for borrowing millions of dollars to renovate and expand the Lewis Centre.
Hall, who owns Comox Valley Fitness, believes passionately that people should have a say in whether the City of Courtenay borrows up to $4.2 million to renovate and expand the Lewis Centre.
He has started a petition asking the city to hold a referendum on borrowing for the project in conjunction with the municipal election Nov. 19.
Hall has until Monday at 4 p.m. to collect 1,802 signatures — which is 10 per cent of Courtenay’s electorate.
“I started (the petition) because I don’t want to see my business fail; that’s the No. 1 reason,” said Hall. “It’s not an easy industry any way you look at it. We’re coming up on our sixth year, and the Comox Rec Centre was a big hit to us. Fitness has to be about convenience, and if it’s convenient for people, they will do it more often.”
When the Comox Community Centre expanded, the old equipment went to the Cumberland Recreational Institute, so Comox Valley Fitness lost clients from Comox and from Cumberland, noted Hall.
While he started the petition because he was concerned about the impact the expansion will have on his own business, as he delved into it, he says he realized people don’t know what the City is doing.
“Basically, it flew right under the radar,” he said.
Courtenay council voted in August to use the alternative approval process to find out if citizens support borrowing up to $4.2 million for upgrading and expanding the Lewis Centre. The entire project is expected to cost about $5.4 million.
“The process is flawed, and we need to get people involved,” he said. “I think the majority will always make a better decision than a select few, especially with special interests involved.”
One of Hall’s concerns with the proposed project is adding a parking lot where there is currently green space close to the ball diamond and the existing parking lot.
“If this parking lot goes in here, this is where they hold KidsFest, Canada Day … it’s an amazing green space,” he said.
Hall says when he asked about the parking, Courtenay community services director Randy Wiwchar told him it’s just conceptual, but he has heard that it is on plans.
“I’m tired of politicians not disclosing everything,” he said. “Put your cards on the table, let people know what you’re going to do, and let them decide.”
The City hasn’t made any decisions about parking yet, according to Wiwchar.
“We do have lots of options for parking, but they are all conceptual at this time,” he said.
Hall says he’s been receiving e-mails from people who are also concerned about the Lewis Centre proposal and who say they’re also sending them to the City.
“I’m not against the Lewis Centre,” he emphasized. “I promote and believe in fitness … but to build (Lewis Centre) in this floodplain will cost so much….”
Lewis Park has flooded, but the Lewis Centre has not flooded, and anything built there would be built to a higher-than-average standard, according to Wiwchar.
Wiwchar emphasizes that the proposed renovation and expansion includes much more than a fitness centre, such as meeting rooms, storage space and multi-purpose rooms.
“We’re not building a fitness centre,” he said. “We’re building a family-oriented, multi-purpose facility. We’re really expanding a facility that’s been there more than 50 years. It’s getting run down, it’s crowded, and it’s not modern.”
Wiwchar also pointed out that the Lewis Centre serves seniors, teenagers, people with special needs, families and the general public.
“One of the big things is many people in the community cannot afford or use private facilities,” he said.
Wiwchar says the city hopes this work would extend the life of the Lewis Centre another 40 to 50 years.
Twenty-seven businesses are giving people a chance to sign the petition, including Comox Valley Fitness, Fitness Excellence, Curves, Edward and Parnell and Bikram Yoga.
For the final push, Hall hopes to find 10 to 15 canvassers who will go out with him this Saturday afternoon to canvass areas of Courtenay. Anyone interested in helping can contact Hall at 250-703-0352.
Hall will also have the petition at the West Coast Women’s Show this Saturday and Sunday at the Comox Community Centre.