Letters: Making the most of multi-use

Let’s work together to ensure the new facility will be the best that it can be

Dear Editor:

The new multi-use facility, which will be a replacement and expansion of the existing Lake Windermere Memorial Hall, is still in the conceptual and planning stage. The new facility will likely exceed 15,000 square feet, and provide space to almost all of the existing user groups in the current community hall, as well as offer expanded main hall space, which will allow many functions to grow and the performing arts sector to have an exciting new venue.  There will also be multi-purpose flexible use rooms — we are also considering 4,000 +/- square feet of fitness centre space, which represents less than one third of the total new building space.

The process the District of Invermere (DOI) council has used in planning and funding the new facility is unique: instead of investing a significant amount of time and money into a detailed design first and then requesting support from the community, we choose to bring a basic concept and a somewhat urgent need (the failing of the structure of the existing community hall) to the public and, if support for a new multi-use facility was gained (which it was), then we would figure out of all of the details about specific design, exact size, exact budget, and which groups would get dedicated space, and which groups would have the opportunity to share space. Although the exact specifics were not known before the referendum last November, we did clearly articulate at the two open houses that a potential partnership with the non-profit Valley Fitness Centre (VFC) was being explored, and that a new municipal library would only be considered in future phases, and that we were hoping not to include municipal offices in the new facility in any phase (especially if we could find a more viable option for managing the facility).

The VFC is not a business. The VFC is a non-profit society that provides both standard fitness gym operations as well as programming in, but not limited to, aerobics, yoga and spin — very similar to recreation programs offered by many towns and cities across Canada. The VFC pays a large number of independent contractors to provide these services. Rather than compete with private business, they help to support it!  Unlike many other public institutions (i.e. ice arenas and libraries), the VFC does not receive direct operating funding from government, but rather relies on membership or user fees to cover their operational costs.

In addition to full annual memberships, there are also “punch card” and promotional membership available that make it more affordable for some people. It was not that many years ago that the Invermere library was not a municipal library, and they used to charge fees for library cards. Perhaps, in the future, there is the opportunity for the fee structure for VFC to change, if they get some public support in the form of new space?

There are many public facilities and services that are operated by non-profit societies (i.e. Eddie Mountain Arena) or by private companies (i.e. Columbia Valley Landfill). Any suggestion that public services can only be done by union employees is factually incorrect. The library, as an example, has only been unionized for one year now.

Any future building improvements for the Invermere library will need regional financial support, as over 55 per cent of the library usage is from outside of Invermere. The regional support that the DOI has secured from the RDEK for the new multi-use facility is from recreation tax, and cannot be used to create library space. There is work that needs to be done on the future of regional library services in the Columbia Valley. This is going to take a considerable amount of time and effort before there is regional funding for new library space.

If a citizen or group wants to be part of the decision-making process, write letters to DOI council, show up at meetings and open houses, ask questions — find out as much information as you can, maybe even talk to individual members of council to understand the background behind certain decisions. Writing letters to the editor or posting on Facebook opinions that have incorrect or only partial information and seem to criticize a local non-profit and/or council is probably the least effective way to participate in the process. Let’s work together to ensure the new facility will be the best that it can be, while still keeping in mind what is realistic and possible based on a limited budget and an unlimited list of potential uses and user groups!

Gerry Taft, Mayor

District of Invermere