Question of public space needs ‘elephant in the room’ at Shire Hall

Councillors discuss need to develop direction on types and 

locations of spaces they wish to fund

 

ADAM BRAMBURGER

STAFF WRITER

Several councillors discussed the issue of what public spaces the County supports and where they are located as an elephant in the room during Thursday’s committee-of-the-whole meeting.

In a discussion about the proposed Picton library expansion, councillors seemed to be weighing their decision Tuesday to maintain the Picton Town Hall under a board of management structure and considering the costs and benefits of the facilities the County maintains.

Athol’s Jamie Forrester said in light of low occupancy rates in town halls and community centres, council should be putting in time to consider the role its facilities play in service delivery.

“There should be an analysis on what sort of space we have and how we can utilize what we have here,” he said. “We’ve had a little talk about community space and how we’re going to do it. When you look at town halls and community centres not being utilized, you have to ask where do we sit looking at how much we need. It seems we don’t have the answers to those questions and when we do talk, we say ‘That’s not what we’re here to talk about today and put it off.’”

Forrester also said as a rural councillor, he sees that Picton holds less than 20 per cent of the population, but there’s a lot of money going to the urban ward.

“It is a hub around here, but it’s not the only hub of Prince Edward County,” he said, before questioning if the County has looked at options like putting a library inside an underutilizes community centre, such as one he’d visited in Bewdley, Ont.

Bill Roberts, Stewart Bailey, and Phil St. Jean each also raised questions about possible duplication of public space as well as the balance between Picton and rural areas.

In response, chief administrative officer James Hepburn said council has discussed its recreation master plan during the budget process and there was talk about being frugal, but added there isn’t an overall plan for community space.

“The discussion Tuesday night brings the need to have that sort of information to the forefront. To tell you we’ve looked at private space versus public space and future needs for that space, I can’t tell you staff has done any of that,” he said. “It’s probably something we would have included in a recreation master plan. Staff is hopeful to look at those sorts of needs in such a plan. I know that’s not the answer you want, but it’s the best one I have right now.”

Ameliasburgh’s Andreas Bolik said he shared the same concerns, though he supported the library bid.

“This council, two days ago, gave away $1 million for a space whose proponents said the library doesn’t fulfill its needs. Today, the library plan comes forward and says Picton Town Hall doesn’t fulfill their needs. It’s public space. We’ve had advice from staff saying we’re not sure what those needs are and we don’t know future needs because we haven’t studied it, yet here we are making decisions.

“The town hall is an experiment. They have 18 months to show it can break even and hopefully make a profit. This library project is not an experiment. If we build it, it will be there for the foreseeable future. If we’re looking at investing for the future, this is a sounder deal in my view.”