North Van's Harry Jerome centre delayed for recreation strategy

Those waiting for some definitive direction from City of North Vancouver council on what the new Harry Jerome Recreation Centre will include and when it will start construction will have to sit tight a little while longer.

Council is now delaying any further work on the project until the city has developed a “community recreation strategy” that takes into account all of the city’s indoor and outdoor rec assets and amenity space, according to a report going to council on Monday night.

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In a split vote in July 2018, the previous council approved the massive $210-million infrastructure project that includes a 50-metre pool, curling rink and rooftop sports courts in a 256,433-square-foot complex. But, citing concerns over financial risk, the new council voted to hold off issuing construction contracts until staff had a chance to report back on strategies to mitigate financial liability. A staff report released in March estimated $27.4 million could be saved if the city built only a 25-metre pool, cancelled curling and cut back on underground parking at the site.

User groups have been patiently waiting since then to learn where they will fit in the new Harry Jerome, but council voted in a closed session in March to first complete the recreation strategy.

“Council has not yet made a decision on scope. They’ve instead directed us to do this broader review,” said Barbara Pearce, director of strategic and corporate services for the city.

Many outdoor facilities like the Spirit Trail, the Green Necklace, improvements to Mahon Park and the Shipyards are coming online, but the city has never done an analysis of how they fit into the bigger picture in terms of recreation.

“There will be a rec centre. It’s just putting it in context. It’s a big centre and it’s got a big price tag. We just want to make sure everything fits in context. All of our investments go together,” added CAO Leanne McCarthy. “It will reduce the financial risk of the Harry Jerome Rec Centre project and it will help us ensure that we get it right.”

The terms of reference for the recreation strategy have not yet been drawn up and there is no official timeline for that work. Under the contract with the lead consultants on Harry Jerome, the city has the option to pause the project for up to 12 months. Staff who were working on Harry Jerome will be reassigned to work on the new rec strategy.

“I don’t anticipate this is a long body of work. I think it’s a few months to get us shored up because a lot of that information we know. It’s bringing it together,” McCarthy said.

The city is expected to fund the rec centre, in part, with $183 million reaped from a long-term lease of the adjacent lands to developer Darwin Properties, which is planning to build more than 800 units of housing in two highrise towers and several mid-rise buildings. Those negotiations are ongoing, McCarthy said, but slowing down the rec centre project will mean less bridge financing and lower risk for the city.

“That’s been a focus of council’s risk consideration. Is it appropriate that we take a big loan or do we wait until we actually have the money?” she said.

The delay could result in higher costs for the rec centre itself, Pearce acknowledged, but said council will be kept abreast.

“Our previous reports have talked about cost escalation, which is a reality in this environment. When we come back to council on the results of the review, we would report back on any cost implications of a new scope,” Pearce added.

In the meantime, things will remain status quo for programming and the existing cinder block rec centre.

“It’s not pretty, but it’s continuing to operate and there’s no change,” Pearce said.

Pearce said much of her day Thursday would be taken up by briefing user groups directly about council’s decision.

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