The clocktower at the Port McNeill waterfront. (Bill McQuarrie photo)

The clocktower at the Port McNeill waterfront. (Bill McQuarrie photo)

McQUARRIE: Let’s press pause on the Port McNeill Harbour Park Playground

The Port McNeill waterfront park is a town jewel.

As I wrote the March 23 news story on the proposed Waterfront Community Playgroup project, I was bothered by something that at first I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

Let me start by saying the Playgroup project is run by a dedicated, enthusiastic and well-intentioned group of volunteers. While focused on young families with children and related activities, they clearly state they want to create a park that is, “…a fun, safe and accessible space for all of our community members.”

Leading with this goal, detailing the need (including an excerpt from a United Nations report on the value of play to a child) and explaining the past issues and problems, the committee members asked for the Town’s support.

In particular, they asked to use the existing waterfront park as their development site; presented a very rough outline of a project budget; provided no drawings or site plan that would allow everyone to see the scope and size of the project; and wanted Council to donate the land, install the hard assets and promise to provide ongoing maintenance.

Phase one of their proposal and representing about two thirds of their budget is a playground for children aged two through 12. Once completed, phase two would begin and include the purchase and installation of adult fitness equipment. According to their proposal, the cost (not including land, maintenance, insurance etc.) for both phases would be approximately $75,000 with $60,000 of that in cash and the balance in in-kind donations.

All of this would, according to the proposal, be completed this summer, on one of the most valuable recreational land resources the town owns. It would also be done without benefit of study and without hearing from other special interest groups who may feel their ideas and concepts represent a far better use of the park.

The playgroup committee has also offered to write the funding proposal(s) on behalf the town and given the speed with which the committee wants to proceed, that proposal would likely lack objective third party impartiality or meaningful input from other community members, governing bodies or special interest groups.

The Port McNeill waterfront park is a town jewel that should evolve based on an inclusive and well thought out master plan. It should never be a single use venture where special interest groups drive the agenda and project towards their goals.

It is instead the town that needs to be in the driver’s seat, listening to ideas, encouraging delegations to come forward, formulating inclusive plans, doing their planning and costing homework, writing funding proposals and if necessary, taking as much time as needed to ensure the Harbour Park reaches its full potential.

Is a playground centric harbour front park a bad idea? I don’t know the answer to that question but I do feel a lot more information is required before good decisions can be made.

The land this group wants to use is a treasure and personally, I’d like to see town council sit up, take notice, take control, and seek the ideas and advice of all users and potential users of the park. I see the inherent benefits of a playground being included in the development of a town master plan but perhaps not on the scale envisaged by the Playgroup proposal.

The Waterfront Community Playgroup proposal is good in that it is getting people involved and talking about best use of town assets. And it is good that those involved in this group sincerely want to improve recreational opportunities, especially for children.

However, needs and wants are dynamic, children grow up, parents age and people move in and out of town. And it is this demographic ebb and flow that makes urban planning such a difficult task and why professional and experienced planners instead of lobby groups are needed to ensure our decision makers get the best impartial and dispassionate planning advice available.

Bill McQuarrie is a former publisher, photojournalist and entrepreneur. Semi-retired and now living in Port McNeill, you can follow him on Instagram #mcriderbc or reach him at bill@northislandrising.com


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