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New $237M Harry Jerome rec centre approved in split vote

“It’s going to bite us,” mayor predicts

Despite a $237-million case of sticker shock, the new Harry Jerome recreation centre won hard-fought approval Monday, marking the end of a 15-year odyssey to replace the half-century-old cinder block facility.

Replete with curling and skating rinks, two pools, the Silver Harbour Seniors Centre, a fitness centre, gym, and multi-purpose rooms all rolled into 256,433 square feet – the centre is both spectacular and spectacularly expensive, Mayor Darrell Mussatto warned.

“We’re getting in too deep,” he said. “The reason why West and North Van district didn’t want to do a 50-metre pool is because they can’t afford it,” he said, pleading with his colleagues to delay approval until a more comprehensive cost estimate is available. “We’re borrowing as much as we can borrow and we need to borrow more. ... We’re borrowing from ourselves.”

The city is planning to get $90 million in bridge financing from the Municipal Finance Authority of B.C. and $20 million in internal borrowing.

If that bridge financing gets rickety, Coun. Linda Buchanan warned residents could face a five per cent tax hike.

“We want a new community centre but not at this cost,” she said, noting a projected $1.4-million boost in annual operating costs compared to the old centre.

Challenges in the operations of the new centre are “due to sheer scale,” according to a staff report.

That scale is necessary, countered Coun. Rod Clark, who noted the city population was around 27,000 when the old rec centre opened its doors in 1965, about half of what it is today.

The new centre needs to serve “those who are here now and those who are going to arrive.”

If the project’s cost zooms beyond the current estimate the city will need a kill switch, according to Coun. Craig Keating.

The projected cost of the North Vancouver museum on West Esplanade hopped 10 per cent between its Class C and B estimates, Keating noted.

Making “an all-in bet,” with no plan to deal with cost overruns is wrong, he said.

The Harry Jerome rec centre itself – which includes the cost of relocating the lawn bowlers and building a temporary skate park – adds up to $210 million. An additional $26.9 million stems from the city’s role in providing 80 non-market housing units, a 37-unit childcare facility and a park.

However, Coun. Don Bell noted the construction budgets accounts for uncertainty and inflation by including a $32 million contingency fund.

Keating put forward a motion calling for council to get a comprehensive cost estimate before giving final approval. After that motion was voted down, Keating submitted a revised motion that would have delayed tendering and construction of the new rec centre.

“I’d love to have it all,” Keating said. “I’d love an independent pickleball tournament field.”

The sticking point, according to Keating, is paying for what may be “the most expensive recreation centre built in the Lower Mainland.”

Coun. Holly Back agreed with some of Keating’s comments, but not enough to support his motion.

“It’s probably one of the most expensive things that maybe the city has done,” she acknowledged. “But it’s probably going to be one of the most amazing things.”

The city needs a detailed estimate, “but not today,” she said.

“If we do delay it by a year, we’re going to only push the costs up more,” she said, noting the city could have replaced the recreation centre 15 years ago at half the price.

Risk is inherent in the undertaking, Coun. Pam Bookham agreed.

Prior to the critical vote, council got their first glimpse of the design of the new centre. Roughly resembling a giant wood and glass Jenga game, the design eliminates the warehouse esthetic of older rec centres, explained project architect Paul Fast.

That esthetic blends seamlessly with the vibrancy that the city has been trying to create, Bookham said.

The project’s approval means relocating both the North Vancouver Lawn Bowling Club and Flicka Gymnastics.

After nearly 20 years in Harry Jerome, Flicka is expected to springboard to the Mickey McDougall rec centre at a cost of $1.8 million.

In a motion that went down to defeat, Mussatto pushed for the city to cover Flicka’s tab.

“We’re buying everything for everybody – why does Flicka have to pay $1.8 million?” he asked.

Mussatto’s motion was defeated 4-3 with Bell and Clark noting that Flicka is a tenant who previously offered to cover expenses.

The North Vancouver Lawn Bowling Club is expected to move from the Rodger Burnes Green – which the club has occupied since the 1920s – to an artificial turf pitch at Mickey McDougall.

Near the conclusion of the five-hour meeting, Mussatto asked the city’s director of finance to gauge the relative danger of the project.

“If you were in my position . . . is this an acceptable risk or would you have a little hesitation?”

While he was initially “taken aback,” by the project’s colossal numbers, finance director Ben Themens said he’s “getting more comfortable.”

The new centre is tentatively slated to open its doors in 2023.