No referendum for Lewis Centre renovation, expansion

The City of Courtenay will borrow up to $4.2 million to renovate and expand the Lewis Centre.
The City received 212 verified elector responses opposing the borrowing through the alternate approval process, a fraction of the 1,802 responses needed to force a referendum.

The City of Courtenay will borrow up to $4.2 million to renovate and expand the Lewis Centre.The City received 212 verified elector responses opposing the borrowing through the alternate approval process, a fraction of the 1,802 responses needed to force a referendum.Council received the results of the alternate approval process Monday and adopted the Lewis Recreation Centre Facility Renovation and Expansion Loan Authorization Bylaw.Couns. Murray Presley and Larry Jangula voted against  the bylaw.”I would support it if we took out the fitness centre and the day care centre,” said Presley, who has argued against offering services that compete with the private sector since the project was first proposed. “I’m sure the size of the building could be greatly reduced, and the cost could be greatly reduced and we wouldn’t have to borrow so much. I think this is unnecessary, especially since it hasn’t gone to referendum.”Presley felt it was a “double whammy” because the City is running a day care and fitness centre that he sees as competition to private business owners, and employees are getting paid more than they would in a private facility.”How fair is that?” he asked. “It just doesn’t make any sense to compete with our taxpayers.”Community services director Randy Wiwchar emphasized that community recreation centres offer different, more generic services than private gyms, which are able to offer specialized equipment and instruction.Wiwchar also pointed out that the Lewis Centre often partners with private facilities and refers people to private facilities if the centre doesn’t have what they need.Coun. Doug Hillian said he respected Presley’s point of view, but he rejected the premise on which his argument is based, as the City would close public libraries because they compete with private bookstores if they used this argument.”We’re not doing anything new, just continuing what we’ve been providing for years,” he added.Jangula felt municipal government should provide certain things such as ice surfaces and swimming pools for its citizens, but this is a grey area.”I still think we should have taken this to referendum,” he said. Coun. Jon Ambler did not feel the Lewis Centre would compete with the private sector, as they provide services for two different markets and serve different needs.”No community ever regretted investing in their community infrastructure,” he noted.Ambler also did not want to micromanage the facility and dictate what goes on inside the Lewis Centre.”Now is the time to build a good, flexible resource for our community,” he said. “Alternate approval is a test of what the taxpayers want. Petitions were taken, there were stories in the newspaper … and only 212 taxpayers were opposed to this.”Coun. Ronna-Rae Leonard thanked the Courtenay Recreation Association for providing the range of programming that people want in this community.”It’s an opportunity for people to come together and be healthy and meet and crete community,” she said.Coun. Manno Theos is a member of both public and private facilities and says he has heard from both sides.”There is a feeling from private sector fitness owners that it is a bit of unfair competition,” he said. “The reality is that there is room for, I believe, an opportunity to work together … What I’m hoping for is the public facility representatives to communicate on a larger basis with the private sector to come to a working agreement on how we can work together.”The first phase of the project would potentially add 14,000 square feet at the back of the Lewis Centre, providing a new weightroom, meeting space, storage space, a crafts room and a special-needs space.The Lewis Centre, which has been providing recreational services for 65 years, was last renovated in 1992.writer@comoxvalleyrecord.com

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