In 2016, Maple Ridge council will continue to fight homelessness, work toward a new school in Albion, and borrow up to $110 million to build a new aquatic centre and other recreation facilities.
“The importance of an elementary school in Albion remains a top priority, so our relationship with the school district is very important,” said Mayor Nicole Read.
Education Minister Mike Bernier visited the district on Nov. 30, and toured Albion elementary, which is 30 per cent above capacity. The message to him from the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school board was that a new school in the still-growing neighbourhood is overdue.
Dealing with the homeless camp on Cliff Avenue and street people occupied much of city hall’s attention in 2015, and Read said council will build on that work in the new year.
She had promised to take on homelessness while campaigning in 2014, but council’s efforts were more than just an election promise.
“It was a really important issue on so many fronts,” she said. “We were successful, which was important – it speaks to who we are as a city, and what our staff is capable of, that we got voluntary decampment. That is not an easy thing to do.
“It was the product of people working on the ground, with authentic compassion and empathy, for months.”
She said the use of rent subsidies allotted by B.C. Housing was the key.
“It gave us the opportunity to get people connected to housing, and off the street. And I think we’ve changed a number of lives for the better, said Read. “Now it’s about really working with B.C. Housing to change the way that we use resources to deal with homelessness.”
Read said she joined city workers at the homeless camp.
“I was down there a lot, and I had people coming frequently to meet with me in my office,” she said.
People from the group offered their ideas about what to do in Maple Ridge, and what had not worked in the past. It was important they be heard.
Read is proud of what the city accomplished, having housed 77 people..
She said the city will continue dialogue with the province, and is still working on the city’s resilience initiative.
“We’ll be having a community forum, so the work we continue with that is going to be important. We need to build a resilient community. We need to be invested in prevention.”
Council has determined it can borrow up to $110 million to get caught up on new recreation facilities that are lacking in the fast-growing community. More ice arenas and artificial turf fields have long been requested by user groups, and last month the city learned that the Leisure Centre pool would face disruptive closures in order to accomplish a $5.5 million retrofit. Council has determined to keep the pools operational while it builds a second aquatic centre.
Council is also considering an amenity fee that it will charge residential developers, to help fund such facilities in the future.
According to staff, such a fee would have garnered an average of $3.2 million over each of the past five years, for a total of $16 million. That would have gone a long way to buying recreation facilities, noted Read, but it will also be a significant resource to pay back any borrowed funds in the future.
She said Maple Ridge has a good development community, and “They are a huge part of achieving our objectives.”
“I would never take this conversation about borrowing money lightly. We need to go into that cautiously, analytically, and make sure we make the right decision,” said Read.
She said the aquatic centre has emerged as the No. 1 priority for council, while fields offer “huge bang for the buck.”
Council meets on Nov. 11 to continue its debate about priority projects.
“I think we’re having a really important conversation about the things that are needed in this community, and I think the list that we come out with is going to be a clear reflection of where we’re behind.”
The year started with SmartCentres backing out of land swap with the city, and the loss of a potential mall proposed for the Albion Flats.
But Read said the city enjoyed a positive outcome, with Walmart moving into the Haney Place Mall, taking over from Target, after that American retail giant’s brief sojourn in Canada.
“Walmart in the town centre was crucial – to be able to have a retailer like that in the downtown,” said Read. “We made that phone call the moment we heard that Target was closing.”
She said city hall was committed to filling that space with a solid retailer.
“It’s a really key cornerstone to downtown.”
The mayor said the mall looked good during the Christmas season.
“It’s busy. That’s what matters. That’s what we want down there.”
She said the Albion flats, the area just south of Planet Ice, can be removed from the Agricultural Land Reserve, and will figure into community’s plans in the future.
“There’s a lot of different opportunities developing,” she said. “The commercial development community has heard my message that we are hungry, so bring us your ideas. That’s manifesting in a number of opportunities that they will be exploring in the new year. There’s a new interest in Maple Ridge, a renewed interest.”
Read and her council were elected in November of 2014, and while there were only two members of council returned, Read said they were not a bunch of rookies.
“We have experience on council. Coming in, I knew Craig [Speirs] from working with him a number of years ago on the heritage commission, and have a lot of respect for him.”
“Gordy [Robson] has an incredible memory for everything that’s evolved in the city, and having been a former mayor and knowing what works, what doesn’t, he is a solid, sound resource as well.
“And then obviously Bob [Masse] and Corisa [Bell] have experience on council, and recent experience, which is valuable because they can provide context for things that are still emerging, or not totally closed from the last council.
“And Kiersten [Duncan] and Tyler [Shymkiw] are a breath of fresh air for the community as well.
“This council is a pleasure to work with really.”