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May. 28, 2022 | Saturday
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Cameron wants to 'put the brakes' on Virgil skatepark
Steve Hare, president of Propour Concreate Services works on the new Virgil skatepark. (Richard Harley)

Coun. Clare Cameron wants the town to “significantly reconsider” and "put the brakes" on plans for a Virgil skatepark that is already under construction.

“I’m really concerned at how this is progressing,” she told councillors Monday during a committee of the whole meeting.

Cameron said she’s heard from residents whose properties will “be impacted” by the project.

She also said she has concerns about “sandwiching a skatepark” close to “what was a fairly pleasant picnic pavilion and what is a fairly well-used baseball diamond with flying projectiles everywhere.”

Raiana Drive resident David Brown, whose house is close to the skatepark development, said he doesn't think residents were properly consulted after the final location was chosen.

He said he's tried to get in touch with the town about the plans since June.

"I've sent 10 emails to the mayor and gotten two responses," he said in an interview.

He added he has no problem with kids having fun, as he works with hockey players aged 10 to 16, but he has a concern about noise and the proximity of the skatepark to his residence and the baseball diamond.

"We'll also have a liability issue with regard to baseball and the picnic area," he said. "There's no way anybody in their right mind with any sort of professional forethought would put a skateboard park on the adjacent foul line to the left field of a baseball diamond," Brown said.

"When I look at it, I'm like, 'Who the hell thought of this and how did they go about it?' "

He also questions why the location was moved from where the original skatepark was (beside the Bricks and Barley plaza) in the first place.

"The site where they put it wasn't even up for debate at the public meeting," he said, pointing out that the town's director of operations Kevin Turcotte said in 2018 it would be going next to the splash pad.

He said a post by Phil Leboudec about the park sparked debate on Facebook and that people have since criticized him and neighbours as being anti-children or anti-fun.

But that's not the case, he said. He just wants things to be done by the book, with proper resident consultation.

"I appreciate the time that everyone puts in to raise the money," he said, but he doesn't think enough thought went in to the project. "And if we're handling a skateboard park like that, what are we doing with all the other things in town that need to be thought of and looked after?"

Cameron said she doesn’t think council was given the chance to make a decision on the location of the park.

While information was posted to the town’s Join the Conversation page online, that "is not the official channel for decision-making at the town. Council is.”

She noted the Virgil Business Association had input because it is funding “a significant portion” of the project, but she said the town is now funding an equal portion.

“The cost is now $300,000-plus,” she said. “And I’m very concerned the residents are being impacted negatively by this and the people who might wish to use the skatepark will be potentially not having the best experience as well.”

She said she wants to “put the brakes” on the park, until council can have a more fulsome discussion about it.

Interim CAO Sheldon Randall said he “wouldn’t recommend” that council halt the progress, pointing out the tender has already been awarded and the builders are getting ready to pour concrete.

“I want to get this right,” Cameron said. “I don’t want us to just barrel forward because we started something.”

Coun. Gary Burroughs said he supported Cameron.

Randall pointed out the project is supposed to be complete in two weeks and that the town would have to pay damages to the contractor if construction is halted.

“This has been a project that has been discussed an awful lot with the public, with the VBA, and with council. And to be honest, I’m shocked, that council wasn’t aware of what was going on with this project,” he said.

He said “some councillors have been very aware of what was going on.”

Cameron said she’d “be happy” to show him some residents who weren’t involved in the decision.

She said she’d rather take the hit and face the consequences with the damages than have something that becomes a “boondoggle.”

Town clerk Peter Todd said, either way, a motion to stop the project would have to go to council.

Coun. John Wiens said he had the same concerns and was not aware of where the skatepark was going.

“As soon as I was made aware, I thought that was very close to the neighbours in that area.” He said he’s “very concerned” about the location and the noise at the facility.

Coun. Erwin Wiens said he has concerns about halting the skatepark, noting the Virgil Stampede was fundraising for it in 2019.

“It’s past the eleventh hour, and we’re referring to it as a boondoggle.”

“This council should have known, everybody at this table, when this was going on and how this was going on. Because if I knew what was going on, then everybody should have known. To say you didn’t know is not fair, and it’s not fair to refer to it as a boondoggle to our staff. Because the information was readily available, always has been.”

Burroughs and Cameron were both shaking their heads on the livestream broadcast.

“I know you’re shaking your head and all that stuff Gary, but you knew it was going on. To say you didn’t know is ridiculous,” Wiens said.

Coun. Allan Bisback, who was chairing the meeting, asked councillors to keep things cool.

Coun. Wendy Cheropita said she wasn’t aware of the skatepark plans either and supports halting the project.

“I didn’t have this project on my radar until the residents started to complain,” she said, noting she isn’t blaming town staff.

“My concern is really one, is just the proximity to the few residents where they are so, so close that it will impact their life and their lifestyles dramatically.”

She said she only saw the location clearly on Sunday “and was sorry that I didn’t look at it earlier.” 

Coun. Norm Arsenault said he can’t defend stopping the project after it’s gone through “such a long approval process,” noting it’s been in the works since 2018 and was approved by the previous council.

He said he appreciates the residents saying they didn’t know anything about it, however “it’s not the job of staff or council to go knock on every door to say, ‘By the way there’s something’s coming up here.’ It’s up to residents to inform themselves when there’s something going on. It was advertised widely.”

Cameron asked for information on how much it would cost to halt the project to be brought to council next week.

In an email obtained by The Lake Report, Lord Mayor Betty Disero said in the meantime staff will continue to construction.