VANCOUVER What's expected to be the final hurdle standing in the way of construction of a decades-long awaited seniors centre for southeast Vancouver has been cleared.
Ainslie Kwan, president of the Killarney Community Centre Association, said she signed an agreement Tuesday night determining the group has no claim to ownership of the centre or the land it sits on. The agreement permits the immediate issuance of a request for proposal for the design and construction of the centre. As reported in the Courier in August, the project was stalled due to a standoff over future management of the centre.
"The park board did not give us any assurance about programming," said Kwan Wednesday morning. "But I thought it was important to get the project going. It's a leap of faith and our way of saying to the park board we're willing to work with you."
Kwan said park board manager Malcolm Bromley explained city lawyers advised nothing could be put in writing regarding management because it could prejudice the ongoing court case between the board and six community centre associations. The lawsuit, launched in 2013, included a claim of partial ownership of community centre facilities. In the 45-page document outlining the suit, the associations accused the park board of breaching numerous sections of the joint operating agreement while also limiting their ability to raise money now and in the future. The six associations involved in the lawsuit are Hillcrest, Killarney, Hastings, Kerrisdale, Sunset and Kensington.
In a February letter to the mayor, council and numerous staff members, former city manager Penny Ballem wrote in part, "There have been some councillors who have raised the issue of ownership of the land and buildings related to the proposed seniors centre. To clarify for council, all land and facilities under the stewardship of the park board are owned by the city. The park board does not own any of the land or buildings/facilities associated with their stewardship of assets as set out under the Vancouver Charter."
Ballem wrote that in order to secure the $2.5 million committed by the federal government and the $2.5 million from the province for the seniors centre, the city must have total ownership of the assets. To that end, Ballem said, legal services has advised it will be necessary for Killarney Community Centre Association to agree it will make no ownership claim on the new centre or land associated with it.
In August, Kwan told the Courier she was more than ready to sign any document confirming the association has no claim to the land or building, once she was assured the group will manage the seniors centre. The Killarney Community Centre Association has been working to get the seniors centre built for almost two decades.
"The park board says it hasn't approached any outside operators and I'm putting faith in that," said Kwan. "We need to repair this relationship so someone had to do it for all of the seniors in southeast Vancouver.
Kwan is optimistic that with the recent departure of city manager Ballem, negotiations will get back on track.
"That's going to make a huge difference," she said. "I can already feel the tone is different and more flexible. That works for both of us."
NPA park board commissioner Erin Shum said she's happy to help deliver on a campaign promise to get the seniors centre built as soon as possible. As for who's going to manage programming at the centre, Shum said it will be the association.
"We will be working with them on good faith," said Shum. "The board knows their commitment to the community. They're the experts. Now all I have to do is deliver this piece of paper to the city."
In a press release distributed Wednesday morning, NPA park board chair John Coupar said, "This important step illustrates the benefit of the new, positive tone set by the park board toward a more collaborative relationship with our community partners."
It's expected a design and construction proposal will be selected by January 2016. A full construction schedule should be released in the coming months.
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