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Year in Rearview: Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows rec. departments on own

Pitt mayor looks forward to more emphasis on arts and culture.
In 2017

Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows will fully begin operating their own parks, recreation and culture departments at the end of January.

A year ago, Maple Ridge council decided to end the partnership, called the joint parks and leisure services agreement.

A consultant’s report indicated Pitt Meadows was saving about $1 million per year because of the 80/20 cost sharing partnership, while it was costing Maple Ridge $200,000 more per year than if it was operating on its own.

The cities tried to work out a deal to even the costs, but in October 2015 Maple Ridge council decided to exit the agreement which had been in place since 1994.

As Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read has said, as that city grows and builds facilities farther from Pitt Meadows, the agreement would make less sense.

But because the fall programs run from September to December, both city councils agreed that Maple Ridge will continue to deliver programming until the end of the year, even though the formal agreement expired at the end of that month.

Pitt Meadows will begin providing full recreation services at the end of January.

"When Maple Ridge served Pitt Meadows notice that they were terminating the joint parks and recreation agreement, our city council took quick action and directed staff to manage that transition under two mandates: existing programs and services were to be maintained for our residents; and the existing budget paid to Maple Ridge in the amount of approximately $2,500,000 was to not be exceeded," said Pitt Meadows Mayor John Becker.

Both goals were accomplished, he added.

When fully operational, Pitt Meadows will staff 23 full-time positions with 37 employees in the new rec department.

It will cost Pitt Meadows slightly more than the $2.5 million it has paid Maple Ridge in the former partnership.

The City of Pitt Meadows hired Diane Chamberlain as recreation manager in June. She is overseeing the implementation and administration of the recreational, social, cultural and leisure activity programs and events for the community.

In 2017, Pitt Meadows will begin a review of programs and services falling within four categories: parks, recreation, arts, culture and heritage.

"We have both the challenge and opportunity of beginning with a blank slate," Becker said. "The key to successful 'made-in-Pitt Meadows' programs and services will be the identification of outcomes within each of these operational areas … It is all too easy to simply spend more and more money on programs and services without any strategic intentions. If there are no deliverables, then there is no way to manage the expenditures."

Becker added that it will be critical for council to identify the proper form of civic engagement to empower residents to help make informed decisions in those areas.

"During the business planning process, I made it clear in my comments to the staff presentations that I did not expect to see any changes to the parks and recreations programs and services until the civic engagement process is put in place and our citizens’ input received.

Becker looks forward to more emphasis on arts and culture.

"We have some amazing artists in our community who need to be identified and celebrated and brought together," he said.

"As well, we have a real opportunity to build into our new programs and services a Katzie First Nation identity. This could include full ecological and cultural programs designed by and run by Katzie First Nation members."

Maple Ridge, meanwhile, is still consulting with the public about its recreation infrastructure plan, which seeks grant funding and approval for borrowing to construct numerous facilities.

The city's top priority remains a new cultural centre, which could cost up to $40 million, planned for just west of the Leisure Centre in Memorial Peace Park.

That would serve as a new location for the Maple Ridge Museum, a youth mental health wellness centre and post-secondary learning.

Leisure Centre upgrades could still be bundled with that. They could also be done independently.

Council is considering a multi-million-dollar repair and renovation to the 35-year-old Maple Ridge Leisure Centre, first proposed in 2014, after learning from staff that constructing a new pool could take up to five years.

If major repairs to the existing aquatic centre are required before that, Maple Ridge could be without an indoor lap or leisure pool for months.

A report done in 2013 said that equipment in the electrical room of the Leisure Centre has been corroded, while the mechanical room where chlorine is added to the water has safety issues.

The refit would see a change from a gas to a liquid-chlorination system. Pool decks would also have to be improved and wheel chair access given to leisure, toddler and lap pools.

Currently, the major renovation of the centre is part of the $40-million Civic and Cultural Facility proposed to be built in Memorial Peace Park.

The Civic and Cultural Facility is one of half a dozen major projects that are part of the multi-million dollar recreation facilities infrastructure plan that’s now out before the public.

Borrowing would have to pass an alternative approval process, approved in July.

Costs for those new facilities, and impact on the taxpayers, still haven’t been determined. But borrowing up to $110 million was included as a possible part of last year’s budget.

Council is considering several new recreation facilities, such as a swimming pool and fitness centre with an indoor running track, as well as a curling rink. That could cost $70 million.

Adding new artificial sports fields and a 5,000-seat stadium, along with new change rooms at the Albion Sport Complex is another project, and could cost about $20 million.

Two new ice sheets are also on the wish list and could be created by converting the existing Golden Ears Winter Club to a hockey arena, then building a new curling rink, which would $25 million total.

"The residents of Maple Ridge are unlikely to see a noticeable difference in service as we enter 2017, as the transition to a Maple Ridge Parks Recreation and Culture department is already in place, and has been operating [under] this model since the end of October 2016," said David Boag, director, parks and facilities in Maple Ridge.

"Over the past few months, we have introduced a new look, with a new Parks, Recreation and Leisure Guide that focuses on Maple Ridge programs and services. The Parks Recreation and Culture website is now also conveniently located on the city website. As we continue the transition, staff will be focused on providing enhanced services for Maple Ridge."

The City of Maple Ridge has added an information section on the Maple Ridge web site to update residents on the progress to date and the process and conceptual planning for each of the infrastructure projects that council has asked staff to prepare for the public consultation.

In addition, the city`s consultant for this initiative is developing an online survey to solicit feedback from residents which will help inform council members on the community`s interest level in each of the proposed facilities and the activity spaces being considered.