Summerland is seeking input on a proposal to replace the aging Summerland Aquatic Centre. (Summerland Review file photo)

COLUMN: Public input necessary for community projects

Summerland council seeking input on two projects

We hear a lot about how important it is that policy and decision makers engage with the public; that transparency and consultation is an expectation, and that communication is critical in building and fostering relationships.

In 2015, during the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention (my first), I attended a workshop presented by the Simon Fraser University Centre for Dialogue about community engagement. Participants learned about the spectrum of public participation developed by the International Association of Public Participation.

The continuum moves from Inform(ing) the public through Consult, Involve, Collaborate to Empower.

The level of public impact increases when the decision-making power is balanced between the public and government because citizens experience more of a sense of ownership over decisions. The IAP2 continuum has been widely accepted and is considered a best practice in community engagement and consultation work.

In 2018, a facility assessment identified that the Summerland’s Aquatic and Fitness Centre had reached the end of its lifecycle and needed either extensive, costly repairs or replacement.

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Last year, council saw that there might be opportunities to partner with other local service providers to create a multi-use public facility. So, in September 2019, again at UBCM, we introduced the concept to three ministers and their senior staff, and to the CEO of Interior Health. We received a strong level of interest and support.

Earlier this year, a memorandum of understanding was signed by potential partners in the Summerland Community Recreation and Health Centre. These include, (though is not limited to), the District of Summerland, Interior Health, School District 67 and the South Okanagan Similkameen Division of Family Practice. Each of these partners has representatives on the project Steering Committee. Additionally, the Penticton Indian Band is supporting the project and will be engaged throughout the project.

Consultants Lees + Associates and District staff will first lead the community through a public engagement strategy, then create a Needs Assessment Report that summarizes community needs and priorities for recreation and health services and associated spaces. Their Public Engagement Strategy states that during the development of the study, residents, facility users and stakeholders are encouraged to provide input on:

• the community’s vision for the project

• the community’s needs and barriers around aquatics, indoor recreation, health care services, wellness services, and other services for children, seniors, and youth

• partnership opportunities within the community and stakeholders

• willingness and methods to pay for new facilities.

A recreation and health centre is a significant undertaking for Summerland. The public engagement work that is just getting underway is a critical piece to ensuring that the project — however it is looks — has broad community support. The first opportunity for residents to weigh in will be at a virtual open house on Thursday, Sept. 24. Visit summerland.ca/parks-recreation for more information on how to participate.

The centre is one of council priorities for which a robust community engagement strategy is essential. The second one, just beginning to get underway, is the development of a Downtown Neighbourhood Plan.

Earlier this week, the District of Summerland released a call for applications to join the Downtown Neighbourhood Plan Task Force. This group will help guide the planning process, provide direction for staff and any consultants through the planning process, and create community champions for the plan’s implementation.

The inclusion of the word “neighbourhood” in the task force name is deliberate. People are essential to a vibrant neighbour, and the downtown core is no different. Downtown residents can enjoy:

• quick and easy access to restaurants, shops, grocery stores and other businesses

• walkable access to public facilities such as the library, arts and culture centre, and parks and recreational facilities;

• walkable access to downtown cultural and recreational events held at downtown parks and streets and Centre Stage Theatre

• more affordable housing options, including rental spaces

• active transportation, such as walking and biking.

A wide range of perspectives will be brought to the Task Force and District staff will be able to present a well-rounded and inclusive Downtown Neighbourhood Plan to Council in 2021. If you are interested in being part of the task force, please send your application (forms at summerland.ca/your-city-hall/committees) to info@summerland.ca.

The success of both of these initiatives ultimately depends on the expertise of a relative few. However, the key to an enduring project is a strong foundation, one that blends and connects ideas and input from many. We encourage you to be part of the many.

Toni Boot is the mayor of Summerland.

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