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Harry Jerome project to be revisited, possibly revised

Council voted 4-3 to re-examine

Four months after the previous City of North Vancouver council hit the gas on the $210-million Harry Jerome rec centre project, the new city council pumped the brakes.

Mayor Linda Buchanan, who previously advocated a more modestly priced rec centre, put forward a series of risk mitigation measures Monday, including an order to staff to issue the construction tender: “only upon council’s direction and approval of satisfactory risk mitigation measures.” Buchanan’s motion is essentially the same as a defeated amendment put forward by former councillor Craig Keating in July. However, with Rod Clark and Pam Bookham off council and four new councillors at the table, Buchanan’s motion passed despite Couns. Holly Back, Tony Valente and Don Bell opposing elements of the motion.

Suggesting Harry Jerome seemed like the “never-ending project,” Back suggested a delay and a possible design change was a poor business decision.

“To stall again, we’re only burning through tax dollars,” Back said. “Please let this council respect and honour the very difficult decision that has been made.”

Buchanan assured the gallery a new rec centre would be built but noted other rec centres – specifically the $132-million facility in Port Coquitlam – have been built for substantially less than Harry Jerome’s projected costs.

The city previously planned to help pay for the centre with $90 million in bridge financing and $20 million in internal borrowing. The lion’s share of the cost was to be covered by leasing land between 21st and 23rd streets along Lonsdale Avenue to Darwin for $183 million.

Just because the city can find $200 million to pay for the centre doesn’t mean it should, Coun. Jessica McIlroy said, suggesting a “second look” may be prudent.

McIlroy called on council to carefully consider how it manages the city’s resources, reminding her colleagues of the acute challenges of providing non-market housing, transition and shelter spaces, and child care.

The motion will allow council to reassess the cost of the rec centre without causing any “significant delays,” Coun. Angela Girard said of Monday’s vote.

Coun. Tina Hu concurred, advising the gallery that council wasn’t making a definitive decision on the rec centre that evening.

Council’s vote on Monday leaves the replacement of the half-century-old cinder block centre in flux, with the previously approved 256,433-square -foot Cadillac version of the rec centre potentially up for review.

The new Harry Jerome rec centre previously included curling and skating rinks, two pools, the Silver Harbour Seniors Centre, a fitness centre, gym, and multi-purpose rooms.

The city is now also slated to examine a new study contrasting the costs of 25- and 50-metre pools and to determine exactly where the District of North Vancouver stands on sharing rec centre costs.

Bell suggested not resuming the 25-metre versus 50-metre pool debate.

The possibility of trimming 25 metres from the previously approved 50-metre pool was disquieting for North Shore Aquatic Society president Linda Sullivan.

While halving the size of the pool wouldn’t yield significant cost savings, it would mark a significant loss for North Shore swimmers, Sullivan argued.

Aquatically inclined allies backed Sullivan, with one speaker noting the sparse space at public pools was resulting in young swimmers doing laps at the Pinnacle Hotel.

Valente said he supported elements of Buchanan’s motion but was also concerned about diving into the pool debate.

Valente called for council to be cognizant of the “macroeconomic reality” and the potential for construction costs to balloon while the plan is revised.

“I think we need to be thinking about our future needs,” Valente said, suggesting the large facility might be a good fit for a growing city.

Monday’s vote may mean a change of course for Flicka Gymnastics, which was slated to relocate following nearly 20 years turning handsprings at Harry Jerome.

The $210-milllion price included the cost of relocating the lawn bowlers and building a temporary skate park. The project’s total budget also included a $32-million contingency fund.

Bell moved to defer the vote until the city’s four new councillors can get up to speed on the Harry Jerome file, a report he compared to War and Peace in terms of heft. His motion was defeated 4-3 with Bell, Back and Valente opposed.