A Glitterbomb of Park-Love for Centre Wellington:

(originally printed in the Fergus Elora News Express March 2012)

Let me get right to it: there is a loud voice in our community that is pretty much screaming at Council to focus on roads and bridges. I have to hand it to Kelly Linton, my Ward rep because he publically asked for input. I thought all was well until I heard this week about how Parks is in the process of being marginalized and that presently there is a roads/ bridges focus.

HAD I known, I would have stepped up to say ‘hey, what the firetruck is happening here?’a little earlier. There are parks in this community which have FOR YEARS been an eyesore and needed new equipment for kids. Hoffer Park anyone? Behind the Township Building? It’s a disgrace. And it has been my entire childrens lives. I have said this before, here and in letters so lets review again the importance of a full-on, Parks Budget. No slashing. No burning. Just expanding.

Let me state right here that if my taxes go up because the Parks budget has been expanded to get our community sorted out, then I am all for it. I am for a decent safe park for kids in Elora. I am for a tennis court (just one please!). I am for a regulated ice pad down at Bissell Park to ensure ice for skating all winter (three cheers from my boys on this one!). I am for covering that ice pad so that it can be used for other events during the year, whether it be music, the Soup Off, Zumba or a community garage sale for fundraisers. I am for public restrooms down at Bissell. I am also for a skateboard park, a bike course for teens, a climbing wall and a dog park. I would like to forget I live in Canada for a minute and be able to have any event actually be a likely success because it is outdoors but protected from the elements. I would like the parks here to be so jam packed with things to do, that no child will ever say to me again ‘mom, there is nothing to do.’ Because right now, they are right. There is nothing to do that is free, that is fun and safe, to do in Elora.

Lets review for those who have forgotten the important of “Parks”, and by this I mean the outside AND inside dynamics of the department as a whole.
Parks can provide basic services to poorer residents. Parks can integrate the disabled, disadvantaged and the socially alienated. Parks help develop strong communities. Parks can assist the tourist industry with economic development. Parks can increase property values and tax revenues. Parks can stimulate leisure retail industry (ziplining, kayaking, tubing anyone?) Parks can reduce health problems and costs to business (a company in Wolwich is now providing 2x 1.5 hr lunches a week for staff to exercise on company time as they have seen the direct effect of lowered benefits costs with healthy staffers). Parks can help get kids off the street and give them something to do. Parks can provide Youth employment (my son is going for his lifeguarding certs and thinking maybe ref clinics next year). Parks can create civic identity and pride.

I get about 5 compliments a week for KIPP (Kitchen in the Park Project in Bissell Park). That endeavor has already created a sub-culture of residents who had previously not exactly found a place in our community. Now we have passionate bakers working together, sharing drink and planning upcoming KIPP events. Parks are spaces where families and companies can spend an entire day picnicking and connecting.
Parks is truly what keeps our communities, vibrant healthy and actually strengthens the roots of our economic sustainability regardless of our population size, diversity, and dynamics. This immense social value of parks is part of the ‘glue’ of a healthy society.

A girlfriend remarked to me today, the traditions that she recalls as a child where everyone biked over to the local outdoor pool, with our 50 cents, and we conquered a back flips off the diving board, water polo games, nailing down handstands in the pool without holding our nose. Summers of memories making new friends and skill building: It was amazing!

Council is complaining about the Fergus Grand Theatre needing $60,000 a year in township assistance. Really? We have a Council of six that receives $45,000 a year to go on conferences. Last week I had the privilege of attending a theatre production of Babar with my sons grade 3 class at the Fergus Grand. It was packed in the morning and about 75% capacity in the afternoon. The kids were falling all over themselves to ask questions to the actors about the set designs, costumes and the story itself. The children and their questions had to be cut off eventually. Had you witnessed this spectacle you would not question for a second the validity of the theatre being accessible to everyone in our Township.

Right now we have roads and bridges that are in need of repair. We also have been provided up until now, cadillac services where our sidewalks are cleared and our snow is removed when a single snowflake falls from the sky. Listen, our parks are important places to meet the green, connect your community, target your health needs and importantly: provide a healthy affordable place for our youth to go. We need to stop viewing Parks and Recreation as a soft service to our community. It should be number one! not ten on the list!

We need more than ever to preserve our Parks budgets, make sure that they are financially attainable for all classes of our community. Look, busted up roads will always be around us because of our wild seasons. We fix one road, another will need repair. For now, lets look at a rough road like a traffic calming exercise and buff up the parks budget. Look at it like investing in the wonder pill for longevity.

(Below is the response from Andy Goldie, Parks Director, CW. The budget was approved)

Over the past week or so Township Council and myself have received a number of emails supporting our parks and facilities and asking Council to financially support improvements to our parks. On behalf of the Township I want to thank you for taking the time to show your support for the Parks & Recreation Department and specifically the parks and opens spaces in Elora and Centre Wellington. It is always great to hear from our residents that are so passionate for our parks, open space, trails, facilities, and services/programs. It is also important for staff and Council to hear from our residents on what they feel is important as we discuss our annual operating and capital budgets so that we can ensure we are providing the right services to our community.

As Director of the Parks and Recreation Department it is very exciting to know that there are so many people who care about what happens in our parks and what we are planning for our parks and open space. We do recognize that our Centre Wellington Park system in particular is not where we would like it to be and we are working with Council at improving this situation. Our parks, open space, trails, facilities, and services/programs are a big part of what makes for a high quality of life for our children, adults, seniors, and families, especially in getting more people more active given today’s high obesity rates. That being said it will take time (years) and many dollars to make these changes. As everyone knows funding this work is very challenging given the many other projects and issues the Township has to address and provide.

I thought I would use this time to let you know some of the positive things that are happening for the parks system in Centre Wellington. I have specifically focused on a number of Elora projects as many of the emails we have received wrote about this in particular:
1) Wellington County Active Transportation Plan and Centre Wellington Trails Master Plan
a. We are currently in the 2nd phase of developing an overall regional active transportation plan for non-motorized transportation (i.e. cycling, walking, etc). At the same time we are developing an overall Trail Master Plan for Centre Wellington. We have been getting a lot of great input from our community via an online survey and public information meetings held last fall. A second set of public information meetings will be held in April. Please watch our website for information on these meetings.
2) Hoffer Park, Elora
a. Council approved funds to replace the play equipment in this park last year. We tendered the project out last fall but we only received one bid so we could not accept it. We will be re-sending out a tender this spring to replace the equipment this summer when budgets are approved.
b. The planting bed was replanted 2 years ago and a very old small concrete wading pool (under planting bed) was removed as the concrete was all broken up.
3) Victoria Park, Elora
a. As you may have noticed we spent approximately $175,000 last year with the 1st phase of implementing the new master plan for the park. Several years ago the community helped developed an overall master plan for the park and we are working over the next number of years to implement this plan. No major work will be completed this year.
4) O’Brien Park, Elora
a. We have allocated $30,000 to upgrade some of the play equipment in this park this summer. The teeter totter, swings, and monkey bars will be replaced and the tender will be sent out this spring when budgets are approved.
5) Replacement of Aging Play equipment (Elora, Fergus, Belwood)
a. We have developed a long term replacement program for all of the existing play equipment in Centre Wellington which given the number of structures we have will take a many years to complete.
b. To date we have replaced structures in Webster park, Hollman park, and Beatty park in Fergus as part of the life cycle replacement budgets. Replacement swings were also installed in Maple park in Belwood as well.
c. Hoffer park and O’Brien park are part of this program funding.
6) Play Equipment Safety surfaces (Elora, Fergus, Belwood)
a. In 2012 Council approved $30,000 to begin the installation of proper safety surfaces in some of our existing parks with play equipment that currently do not meet current safety guidelines. Staff worked on the required safety surface layouts and surfacing during the fall of 2011 and this work will begin this spring at various parks. As this has been an ongoing issue it may take a few years for us to get all the existing equipment with the proper safety surfacing.
i. New surfacing (wood fibre) was installed at Maple Park in Belwood two years ago
ii. All new or replacement play equipment installation will meet current play ground safety guidelines.
7) Bissell Park (Elora)
a. We have been generously supported by the Grand River Agricultural Society with a donation of $125,000 and the Elora Lions Club with a donation of $50,000 towards the park improvements.
b. Work to date includes the master planning of the park, preliminary design of multi-use outdoor performing and recreation area, new Melville St park entrance/on street parking/ new planting bed, a new boardwalk (with in kind hands on work by Elora Lions Club) and the new asphalt pathway.
c. New partnerships with Kitchen in the Park (KIPP) for a wood oven area and with the Elora Farmer’s market who now host their market from May-Oct each year.
d. We have had people asking us about proceeding with the installation of a refrigerated outdoor ice rink as per the approved master plan. This work was included in the development of a multi-use outdoor performing centre and recreation area within the park. We applied for 2 grant to further this project but neither were given to us.
e. We have allocated funds in the 2013 & 2014 capital forecast budget to possibly proceed with the refrigerated ice rink but this is pending budget approvals.
f. This issue about a better ice surface has been pretty high in discussion this year due to the lack of cold weather to maintain the normal winter ice rink at Bissell park and many other parks this winter.
g. Bissell park master plan has seen positive and negative support for the plan – specifically the multi-purpose outdoor performing area. This part of the project has been deferred several years in the capital budget.
8) Skateboard park, Elora
a. We have had numerous requests from children and parents to provide a skateboard park in Elora like the one in Fergus. Some ramps were provided a number of years ago behind the Elora Community Centre however all of these have been taken or tossed into the gorge is my understanding.
b. Funding of $150,000 has been allocated in the 2014 capital forecast budget but this is subject to budget approvals.
9) Elora Ridge Subdivision (Bridge Street)
a. We have been working with the developer to build 1 full sized soccer field and 2 medium soccer fields which are irrigated over the past two years. These field will begin to be used by the local soccer group starting this May.
10) Milligan Park (Fergus)
a. The 2012 capital budget does include funds to develop a small children’s splash pad this year for operations in 2013.
b. We are currently investigating water conservation and quality options for this splash pad and efficient operating costs.
c. The splash pad was included in the approved park master plan that involved the input of the local residents and a sign was erected in the park showing the approved master plan 2 years ago.
11) Elora Community Centre
a. We have allocated funding of $300,000 in our capital budget for 2012 to replace the metal roof over the arena. We have a number of existing leaks on this 30+ year old roof
b. The header trench for the ice mechanical system was replaced 3 years ago and a new HVAC system was installed in the viewing area and change rooms last year.
c. We are allocating funds in coming years to replace the original ice mechanical system and arena boards and glass as well as look at upgrades to the change rooms pending budget approvals.

I hope some of this information helps you to see some of the things we are planning to accomplish for our park and facilities. We have many other plans and projects that we are working on for the future. Funding these new project is always difficult and in many cases these new facilities do increase our overall operational costs which then impacts the yearly tax increase.

If you have any questions about any of these projects noted above or any other projects please do not hesitate to contact me.

Andy Goldie, OALA, CSLA

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