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Council divided on how to ensure splash pad project gets done

Council shoots down ad-hoc committee suggestion; 'I really think, as I’ve said before, this should be an external group organizing' this, says councillor
Splash pad plans
This is a proposed design for the splash pad being planned for Midland. (Submitted photo)

Midland town council has decided that more community involvement and less staff input is the way to go to ensure the long-anticipated splash pad project stays on track.

Coun. Bill Gordon’s plan to create an ad-hoc committee with town staff was rejected by his colleagues who stressed staff are busy juggling 16 capital projects this year.

“Really, all I was looking for was symbolic commitment,” Gordon said. “And I feel I didn’t get that.”

Gordon said an ad-hoc committee would lend legitimacy to the procedure. He said a formal committee would follow an accepted set of clearly defined terms, would include an intake process and would ensure minutes of meetings are recorded.

Coun. Jonathan Main, however, thought such a committee could delay things.

“I don’t think this is the right tool to be using the ad-hoc (committee),” he said at last week's council meeting. “I really think, as I’ve said before, this should be an external group organizing, especially if there’s a concern about trying to do it swiftly.”

Five years ago, when the idea was first floated to the then council, Main said the math on one proposed design pointed towards a price tag of $330,000 to $325,000 for the installation fees. The same design projected a $20,000 yearly cost.

“Even if we get up-front donations on that, the ongoing maintenance, with $20,000, is close to $500,000 over 10 years and a million dollars over 20 years if you add in the 3% interest,” he noted.

“We’re going to need a lot of community funding for this project, because it’s coming with a big price tag," said Main. "We might even have to scale back on the design that's been proposed by community members.”

Main had support from Ward 3 Councillor Cher Cunningham.

“I agree the ad-hoc side of things and the staff involvement at this point may be a bit premature,” she said. “Maybe we can have a community group that can get things moving much more quickly."

She said such a group could explore "options that can get things moving. (It) feels like there is appetite in the community.”

Gordon said the reason he  suggested the formation of an ad-hoc committee was to show residents commitment from council.

“This is to show people who are going to raise real money for this,” he said. “And the hands-off approach of an ad-hoc committee is really just showing continued commitment of the council. This is going to happen in tandem and we can reduce reliance on staff as we go along," he said.

Mayor Stewart Strathearn stressed council is onboard with this municipal project.

“We expect to get this done by the end of this council term,” he said. “The commitment is there.”

However, he said he can see how full the staff’s to-do lists are.

“We have 16 major capital projects coming up in 2020,” said Strathearn. “Each of those projects involves work plans for engineering and specs and tendering and technical understandings and finance, so every staff member gets involved in one way or another. I don’t think anybody from engineering will be available for more work.”

Andy Campbell, the town's Director of Infrastructure, said the project will not happen overnight.

“This isn’t the kind of project that gets done in a year,” said Campbell. “This is a very big project. There are questions that residents should get to ask. For the community groups to start raising money, they don’t need to know what the design is and how much concrete you need. The community can rally around it. Go forth and try and get that money, that doesn’t depend on the design today. We’ll get to that eventually. “

Strathearn proposed deferring the project until the last quarter of 2020; by that time, he said, staff would likely have more time for the project. That motion was quickly defeated.

Council then voted on the original plan for an ad-hoc committee. That, too, was defeated. 

“I’m a compromise guy,” said Gordon. “If the only way this is going to move forward is to defer it until the last quarter ... whatever little things staff can do to help move this forward, I’m happy with that.”

Main suggested it might be best to take time to review all options.

“Maybe take two or four weeks to figure out which tools (municipal or community) are better, and get input from staff and bring a motion back,” he said.

Seeing the impasse, Stratheran suggested that the vested councillors work with community groups and continue the conversation to get a funding mechanism in place.

“We’ll get to the other workload that needs to be done and come back and revisit it,” he said. “We can come back later in the year and have a good look at it, without overburdening the staff with what they’ve got on their plates now.”

Ward 2 Councillor Cody Oschefski says the council debate shows how divided council is on the topic. But, he said, there is movement. 

“It’s a bittersweet moment that we’re not tied down by the rules of the ad-hoc (committee) and we can go out and be boots on the ground,” he said. “We can come back to staff later and get more information from them to help.”

Other issues about the splash pad discussed included signage and in-kind sponsorships.


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Mehreen Shahid

About the Author: Mehreen Shahid

Mehreen Shahid covers municipal issues in Cambridge
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