Harrison’s proposal for a cultural hub is seeing some opposition from local residents, thanks to a petition started by a retired infrastructure critic and manager.
“It’s just like déjà vu, it’s just bringing back old memories,” Ed Wood said about the proposed civic building.
Wood, who has lived in Harrison for about six years, started canvassing homes in August to find people who opposed the cultural hub project and the proposed sale of the overflow parking lot next to the current village office.
“I wanted just to get a feel of what the response was like. And it was overwhelming,” Wood explained. “Every door I knocked on was ‘Yes, I’ll sign it.’”
In January of this year, Harrison Hot Springs submitted a grant proposal to the Investing in Canada Infrastructure program that would allow for the creation of a “cultural hub” in the community.
The hub, which would only go forward if the federal government approved the $4 million in grant funding, would include a public gathering space, as well as room for cultural sharing with the Sts’ailes First Nations, pop up heritage exhibits from the Agassiz-Harrison Museum and new council chambers, which would moonlight as a theatre space. The second floor of the building would be reserved for administrative staff space.
The current village office would remain as a secondary municipal building, possibly used for different cultural groups.
The results of the application have yet to be released.
The total project cost is estimated to be $4.8 million, with around $1 million having to come from the village’s pocket.
To pay for this part of the project, the village has proposed selling portions of the overflow parking lot next to the village office. Some of the parking lot would remain as park land, while sections closest to the current office would be used to build the cultural hub on. The remainder would be sold, likely for development.
For Wood, nothing about this proposal makes sense.
“To spend, I’m going to assume now at $4 million-plus to build this civic hall quote ‘cultural hub facility’ for seven staff members is an absolute waste of taxpayers’ money,” he said. “We are so small to spend that kind of money. It’s just absurd.”
Wood said he believes the main purpose of the cultural hub is the administrative portion, which was heavily emphasized during the January council discussion about the project.
The cultural aspects, including the theatre space and public gathering spaces, were “just something they throw in to try and appease the people,” he said.
Wood also felt strongly about the proposed sale of the overflow parking lot, especially because council is beginning to move forward with a rezoning process that could see three-storey buildings on the site.
“Once that land is sold, it’s gone,” Wood said. “That’s money from our land reserves; it’s money in a piggy bank for future projects.
“When I walked down and spoke to these people, they had all kinds of different ideas of what the village could be spending the money on,” he continued. “Something that would benefit the village, not the civic hall.”
Since mid-August, Wood has visited about 250 homes in Harrison Hot Springs, and collected 219 signatures against the proposed cultural hub and land sale. All but two of the people who signed the petition live in the village full-time, or at least have a post office box in Harrison, Wood said.
(At the same time, Wood also collected forms in opposition to the medical facility that was proposed by Fraser Health. He gathered 125 forms in opposition to that project, and submitted them to the village as part of the “alternative approval process” which finished on Sept. 16.)
“We’re not focusing on what we should be focusing on,” Wood said about the cultural hub project.
He hopes Harrison council feels the same way.
Wood plans to bring his petition to council as part of a delegation during the Oct. 1 meeting, simply as information on how the public feels about the proposed building.
“What council decides to take from this petition is entirely at the discretion of mayor and council,” Wood explained.
“I want to believe that they’re open to hearing what the public has to say,” he continued. “And this process will hopefully allow them to hear that.”