It seemed Kelowna politicians were poised to deal with another powder keg issue courtesy of their planning department, but mounting frustrations over the relocation of the seniors’ centre were defused Monday by a significant budget boost.
“The expansion will provide for further recreation/programmable activities in the main hall for the wider community,” said the city’s architecture planner Kristine Bouw, as she successfully pitched council on a plan to allot an additional $600,000 for a 1,000 square foot expansion on the Multi-Age Centre plan.
In total, the budget hike will bring the centre’s costs to around $4.1 million, and total square footage to 11,000.
Council’s unanimous approval of the budget increase marked the end of a successful campaign by seniors who flooded politicians, newspapers and city staff with letters, emails and phone calls identifying concerns related to the building.
In the onslaught, seniors expressed anger over the fact they signed off on a plan to leave their waterfront seniors’ centre with the expectation they’d get something of comparable size at the new Parkinson Recreation Centre site.
They were incensed to learn that the new facility wouldn’t even offer the space their current building did, not to mention the fact the new two-storey design offered challenges to the flow of user traffic. Parking shortfalls were also highlighted as a potential problem.
While Bouw pointed out that plans seniors saw during consultations were never set in stone, she said city staff believed they could offset the size differences between the two buildings by utilizing Parkinson Recreation Centre and they weren’t aiming to shortchange the user group.
Through the service agreement with the facility, city staff believed they could allot seniors’ time in the recreation centre’s 4,200-square-foot Apple Room, which would actually increase usable space.
That idea, she said, was eventually abandoned for the one presented Monday, and architects will now move into a detailed design phase of planning.
The change in tack was welcome news to the some 20 seniors who had gathered at council Monday, said Chris Bischoff. She had been part of the relocation committee for the better part of three years, and while the process was largely successful, she admits there was a change in attitude in recent months when the size differential was noted.
“There was a core of people who were really concerned and who felt they hadn’t be informed all along,” Bischoff said, explaining that there are nearly 1,200 members in the seniors society and the bulk felt the process was working. “The membership was informed through board and committee all the way through, but there wasn’t a lot of hard data to share until the March meeting and that’s when the concerns came forth.
“People were naturally concerned and they pushed their point forward and its been heard and addressed…I’m grateful for council and mayor who supported that and listened to their concerns.”
Council agreed it was best to create a larger footprint for the centre, rather than have to go back and retrofit it to meet a rising seniors population.
Coun. Robert Hobson, however, pointed out it’s never easy to placate everyone. “For the city this has been a challenge, this is a project that doesn’t have a revenue stream and I’m really pleased staff has identified surfaces that could be used for expanding the facility,” he said.
“I also want to thank the seniors who are willing to move—change is never easy.”
Construction will still get underway later this year, with completion expected by early fall, 2012.