VANCOUVER It took many years and a few election promises for the federal, provincial and Vancouver governments to finally agree to jointly fund a much-needed seniors centre in the city's Killarney neighbourhood.
But even though the $7.5 million is now in hand, the project is stalled because of a legal dispute between the park board and the long-serving community centre association.
"I see the health in some of our seniors failing, and they are not going to see this
built before they die," said Lorna Gibbs, the president of the Southeast Vancouver Seniors' Arts and Cultural Society.
She has fought for years for a seniors centre in the southeast corner of the city, but now that the money has been committed, despairs of ever seeing the facility built.
On the one side is the park board, which is leery of proceeding unless the Killarney Community Centre Society signs a waiver it won't try to claim ownership of the building, which will be built on city land adjacent to the community centre. On the other side, the association wants assurances that it will operate the new facility under the same terms of an operating agreement it has with the city to run the Killarney Community Centre.
Gumming things up is a lawsuit the society and five other community centre associations launched against the city last year when the park board tried to cancel operating agreements at city-owned community centres as part of an effort to gain control of revenue. The associations say they own substantial assets in those centres and they want them back if the city doesn't renew operating contracts with them.
The park board says it is reluctant to start construction on the 10,000-square-foot seniors' centre unless it can be assured the legal case, which won't be heard until next year, won't affect its new facility. The Killarney society says it doesn't trust the park board to not do an end run and sign an operating agreement with some other group once the association signs the waiver.
And in the middle are as many as 2,000 seniors in the Killarney area who have been waiting for decades for a new centre and educational and exercise programming.
One of those is 71-year-old Alfred Tse. He's watched as his friends and neighbours have gone without services that seniors get elsewhere in the city.
"Right now we don't have the space for things we need, such as a kitchen for meals for our seniors," he said. "Our goal has always been to promote our health and welfare, cultural and social needs."
Plans for the seniors centre have been on the books for more than 20 years. In 2009, the city pledged $2.5 million, including land adjacent to the Killarney community centre, under the expectation Ottawa and Victoria would provide matching funds. Last year the federal government contributed $2.5 million and the province agreed to provide $1.3 million. The province later ponied up the remaining $1.2 million. That's where everything has stopped while the legal case remains unresolved.
On Wednesday, the Killarney Centre association wrote to John Coupar, chair of the park board, asking for a meeting to discuss the impasse.
"Our community and our seniors need the assurance that the partnership with the park board and (the society) can continue until a new joint operating agreement can be reached," Ainslie Kwan, the chair of the seniors centre building committee said in a letter to Coupar.
Coupar said the park board, through its general manager Malcolm Bromley, is already in negotiations with the Killarney association and he's confident a solution will be found soon. They are supposed to meet again next week when Bromley returns from vacation, he said. The two sides have engaged veteran mediator Vince Ready to aid in non-binding discussions and have met five times. But Coupar said the park board is right to be concerned about giving the society operating rights to the seniors centre while the larger community centre associations' lawsuit is still active.
"They are suing us right now. The difficulty is that would prejudice any case before the courts," he said. "It is a little bit tricky, but I think we can find a way."
Kwan said Bromley sent her a letter asking the society to relinquish any claims they might have to the seniors centre.
"We've agreed to do that. What we would like is the assurance that the current joint operating agreement in place at the community centre today, which says we are the operator, continues," Kwan said. "It will be at least 2018 before all this is settled, and in the meantime we're saying the city should go ahead with construction of the building."
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