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Letter: Harry Jerome rec centre is a key public asset with an unusual history

Sports facility 'debacle' further complicated by lack of co-ordination between the two North Vancouver municipal governments
Harry Jerome Rec Sign 6
The old Harry Jerome rec centre will close at the end of 2021, forcing many user groups to scramble while a new facility is being built.

Dear Editor:

This is not an “I told you so,” it’s just “I wish I wasn’t so bad at communicating.”

The Harry Jerome debacle is just one example of the waste and confusion that results when your local governments are not aligned with the community or accountable to anyone.

It is not surprising the city is reneging on whatever fingers-crossed commitment it made about keeping Harry Jerome open. It was never in a position to make the commitment in the first place. The city has been very clear that all the money to build a new Harry Jerome facility must come from profit the developer is able to earn from the development.

In a project tied to profits from the sale of strata units built on adjacent lands, there is always a risk of the profits not covering the cost of the new recreation centre. At one time the city was considering bridge financing to keep the facility open, but that’s obviously off the table because the risk is too great.

Governments do not normally make the funding of public asset depend on profits from a single private sector development, but the city is not a normal government. Harry Jerome is an important public asset but has an unusual history.

When both (city and district) governments rejected the North Vancouver-wide assumptions of the recreation commission’s 2007 plan for facility renewal, the district simply took responsibility for building a new Delbrook facility and did it.

The city, on the other hand, was paralyzed. It had duped itself into being 100 per cent responsible for the oldest and biggest recreation facility in North Vancouver, the one most in need of renovation.

Also important to nobody else in North Vancouver except the two governments is the fact it is near the city/district boundary and is home to several North Vancouver-wide and regional organizations. Less than 50 per cent of users of the facility are actually from the city.

Astute defenders of the narrow financial and political interests of the city government knew any project to rebuild Harry Jerome would be a massive no-win nightmare. They worked hard to keep the no-win monster chicken from coming home to roost, but at some point the rotting pipes and fragile cinder block structure has to come down.

Who knows what, if anything, will be built in its place. At one time, city planners did a conceptual plan for a “pocket” recreation centre to be squeezed onto a small sliver of park at 11th and Lonsdale that’s now a dog park.

As the city’s share of the profit from the development at Harry Jerome shrinks, the facility will have to shrink as well. The city will get another opportunity to build a pocket-sized facility closer to its centre and finally get out from under the obligation to rebuild a facility for non-city residents.

The two local governments with “North Vancouver” in their names are not aligned with the interests of any place, or any social, educational, cultural or recreational community in North Vancouver.

Nor is there any accountability from two councils that say they represent North Vancouver but in fact speak only for their side of a weird boundary nobody outside of local government knows or cares about.

“Build back better” North Vancouver should include fixing the structural problem in the government that is closest to us and has the biggest impact on our day-to-day lives.

Guy Heywood
North Vancouver

Editor’s note: Guy Heywood is a former elected City of North Vancouver councillor and North Van school trustee. He was a volunteer on the North Van rec commission for seven years, during which time it completed a comprehensive review of all North Van rec facilities and made recommendations for their renewal.

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