The City of North Vancouver’s Harry Jerome Community Recreation Centre will close by Dec. 31, this year.
Council members voted unanimously (although some begrudgingly) Monday to advance the rebuild of the city’s premier recreation facility to the next phase, including plans for demolition of the existing buildings in the new year.
An online petition circulated in recent months calling on council to keep Harry Jerome open until the new one is completed has more than 3,000 signatures, but the city has already signed a binding agreement with developer Darwin Properties to lease the lands over the long term.
Barbara Pearce, director of strategic and corporate services, explained the city’s rationale for closing the facility early.
“It is the largest project the city has ever undertaken. In total, it's a couple hundred million dollars,” she said. “If we were to finance it over 20 years, we'd be looking at approximately an 11.5 per cent tax increase to our residents, which is a significant addition to their tax bill. Council has chosen, on this project, to instead lease the current Harry Jerome lands, which we do have a binding agreement with a developer for.”
That struck the right balance between benefits a new community centre will bring and financial risks faced by the city, said Coun. Jessica McIlroy.
Construction is starting at a time when labour costs have been escalating and materials have been growing more expensive, thanks in large part to supply chain issues stemming from the pandemic, staff warned.
Coun. Angela Girard addressed the disappointment current user groups feel losing their recreational home for the next three years.
“We know how much the current Harry Jerome centre has meant to people. It's been more than just a place to recreate. It's been a place where residents come to connect, to be with one another and to be active,” she said. “And while there will be change and some real sense of loss for many of our residents in the community. … I hope our residents can be consoled by the fact that in a not-so-distant future, an incredible new Harry Jerome along with a new Silver Harbour will be built with the same goal of being people centred.”
The vote opened old wounds for the faction of council that voted for a larger, more grandiose rec centre in 2018, only to have it scaled back by council in 2020.
“I realize that the decision was made to reduce the financing risk and was compounded by the impact of the COVID pandemic and the escalating costs of labour and materials, but my heart wants me to vote against what I see as a half a loaf compared to the full loaf we could have had, and I believe our community needed and deserved,” said Coun. Don Bell.
Couns. Holly Back and Tony Valente shared similar sentiments. Any savings gained by removing features like a 50-metre pool, curling rink and second gymnasium were lost to inflation over the last three years, Valente said.
“Yes, we reduced the financial risk, and as well, the reward. Our delays, I think, have really saved us nothing and I think have potentially sacrificed amenities that we could have delivered,” he said.
Mayor Linda Buchanan said she stands by staff and the rest of council’s assessment of the financial risk and encouraged everyone to look at the bigger picture.
“I really believe this facility is more than just the building. It is more than just the components inside the building. It's more than just a place for recreation and sport. This building embraces our values of equity, of inclusion and diversity, and reconciliation. And this is about building community,” she said.
Relocation of programming
Immediately after, council turned their attention to a report from North Vancouver Recreation & Culture to relocate activities and programming after the wrecking ball swings.
Some ideas floated included skating lessons on the outdoor ice rink at the Shipyards, and yoga at the Pipe Shop.
For swimmers, Ron Andrews and Delbrook pool hours will be extended to accommodate more lessons, aquacize, masters swimming and some additional lane time, according to staff. To help ease pressure on oversubscribed programs like swimming lessons, North Vancouver district and city residents will be given priority to sign up.
For hockey and skating, the rec commission will maximize time at Karen Magnussen Arena and Canlan Ice Sports, which is requiring some user groups to seek other ice pads off the North Shore, the staff report notes.
Arts programming may be shifted to the outdoors, when weather allows, and to other rec centres but also to venues such as Centennial Theatre and possibly Silver Harbour Seniors’ Centre, which will remain open until the new facility nears completion.
As well, rec staff are in discussions with other potential hosts for preschool and out-of-school care programs.
Staff are targeting the new Harry Jerome Community Recreation Centre to open in 2025.