Scrolling through Facebook last week I came across a City of Fernie post about the City considering selling the Max Turyk Community Center. I found this post especially interesting as I was serving on council when the decision was made to purchase the building.
Max Turyk had been a school for decades but at that time was closed by School District #5. I clearly recall the reason that Council purchased the property was to provide soccer field facilities that were safe as we had heard for years that the fields situated behind IDES school had become hazardous with gopher holes and poor grass. Children suffered injuries to limbs and in the spring the fields were littered with dog excrement due to the area used as a winter playground for dogs.
I can only speak to what I know from the 16 years I was involved as a councilors and mayor. Max Turyk Community Center received improvements to accommodate the groups that requested rental space and later a new roof and new exterior paint plus playground structures were added. A soccer field rebuild came with a price tag of over a million dollars and later due to flooding, it cost thousands of dollars to make the improvements.
École Sophie-Morigeau, is the primary tenant of the facility, and the school would be purchased for their use however, there is concern from the other renters. The renters that I’m aware of include; the Fernie Child Care Society, (Fernie’s only non-profit childcare program and BC $10 a Day Child Care BC Centre), Fernie School Aged Care, Fernie Forest School/Creative Minds, Judo club, Volleyball Club, Freestyle Club, private rentals, and also a large number of participants in the gymnastics club. The fields offer soccer and Pickleball, both with a large numbers of participants.
The Eirin Amundsen Memorial Pavilion Committee also has plans for the fields, they have raised over two hundred thousand dollars to build a multi-use field house, and had full support from council. Some of their plans were changed due to being told that washrooms weren’t required because the building washrooms would be upgraded and could accommodate higher usage. The forty thousand dollar washroom grant was returned to the Columbia Basin Trust. Those plans never materialized however the group still wishes to move forward with this project.
Concerned individuals are expressing apprehension. What happens after the sale if the new owners requirements change? What happens to the other renters as it’s obvious there is no space available in Fernie for displaced groups. What happens if the soccer fields aren’t maintained and become unusable, or the land is sold?
I have read that the City believes the sale is a cost saving measure. If the City cannot afford to maintain the land and building, who can? I understand the respected École Sophie-Morigeau is under French School District 93 but is that a guarantee that they will keep the rental contracts in place and maintain the soccer fields? What guarantee can the City of Fernie provide the other users of this facility?
I researched to see what it said about the role of local government in BC and I quote to “Provide functions such as social care, schools, housing and planning and waste collection, but also lesser known ones such as licensing, business support, registrar services and pest control. Council works with local people and partners, such as local businesses and other organizations, to agree and deliver on local priorities. The decisions are implemented by permanent council staff who deliver services daily. It also provides additional powers with respect to roads and highways (including title to most local roads), control of dangerous dogs, hazardous conditions, and declared nuisances.”
Years ago I learned that local government is there to provide services that make it easier and better for residents, this is “social care”.
There is no doubt that users benefit from the City spent tax dollars to maintain buildings and lands owned by them but that is the job of the corporation. Aquatic centers and arenas are known to be money guzzlers but this is a service that must be provided, other sports are just as valuable, soccer for instance has over 400 participants and as the Fernie Youth Soccer Association says “We benefit from the MTCC soccer fields today because of past volunteer efforts to construct this dedicated soccer facility. Before MTCC soccer fields opened in 2014, youth soccer games were scheduled on various fields around town (including Isabella Dicken Elementary School, Fernie Secondary School, Ridgemont Elementary School ) which involved lots of parent volunteer coordination of players, coaches and equipment. Unfortunately, most of these alternative playing fields no longer exist or are overscheduled. (e.g., Ridgemont Elementary School is now Silver Ridge neighbourhood; IDES fields were repurposed to portable classrooms and a disposal area for parking lot snow clearing… with gravel deposited on playing surface).”
Fernie Youth Soccer Association also believe that the “proposed sale represents a serious threat to their programing. Access to a quality soccer facility large enough to host our entire program has meant a large increase in registration, increased enjoyment and measurable improvement of our rep and development teams and the outcomes of community-led initiatives and relationships relating to Max Turyk – particularly concerning the Eirin Amundsen Memorial Pavilion”.
At the open house some were surprised that not all Council members were informed of the number of child and youth user groups in the Max Turyk building. It was felt that this was something that the Mayor and Council were to be informed of before the engagement phase began and certainly before conditions of sale were discussed between two parties.
I read the COF will use the funds generated to put into reserves. When I left as Mayor the City had over 11 million dollars in reserves and less than a million dollars of debt left from the 2004 downtown revitalization project. In four years, this money was spent leaving the City with no reserves.
Decisions made prior to present must not be compounded by making another flawed decision. If the building is sold to the French School, there must be conditions such as right of first refusal if they choose to sell. The soccer fields must remain as part of the social service that local government provides, at the very least the COF must show a corresponding process of having a new location for soccer and the associated cost, funding sources and timeline to re-establish COF owned soccer fields in consultation with Fernie Youth Soccer Association and also show that the renter groups within the Center will have adequate space in town if asked to relocate..
The child care group built an amazing playground and also were selected as one of the few child care space to provide the ten dollar a day service, if pushed out of the facility they are in and knowing there is no alternate place to go to this exceptional service will be lost, working parents will be affected and life for all of those involved will suffer. Their lease will be up for negotiation in 2025 and there is no guarantee that it will be renewed.
With todays real estate prices and knowing that individual house lots at Silver Ridge were selling for up to four hundred thousand dollars, I find it difficult to comprehend that the price quoted for 8.5 acres of land with a huge center is valued at $3.4 million. Also very generous to say 1.5 acres will be held for affordable housing but part of that area is very spongy and would take a huge amount of fill rendering this not affordable for low cost housing for most developers. The land circling Fernie is all privately owned and aside from the Ridgemont lands, all others are approved and ready for development.
Fernie has very few pieces of land that could be used to build structures larger than a home. This land is one of the largest pieces owned by the COF, the other land is the Court House and Trinity Lodge, the old fire hall site and public works area. There is concern that this sale is the beginning of the disposal of the first two sites. The Court house which is an important historical building and was purchased by the City was acquired because of its historical value and in 2017 was designated the most significant building in the BC interior for its beauty and surrounding landscape.
I also question the COF efforts in communicating this public agenda item. In my opinion the COF must find more effective means than Facebook for advertising plans that will affect citizens. The subsequent open house held at the Seniors Center did inform the community more effectively than their Facebook and online content. There are citizens who don’t own computers or have a Facebook account.
Except for a few years I spent in Italy as a child I have lived in Fernie my entire life. I feel passionate about this small city and have loved volunteering for organizations and individuals for decades. I am and always have been genuinely interested in working to make life in this community “better and easier for its citizens” and that is why I am expressing my opinion and that of many others by writing this article.
It is my hope that the individuals in the present council, many whom I supported, will remember the reason why they are there. You are there to make life easier for citizens, not cause them stress and hardship, which there is great potential for if this sale were to proceed.
By Mary Giuliano
Mary arrived in Fernie in May of 1953 and has lived here ever since, by choice, because she loves the Elk Valley and everything it stands for. Read more from Mary here.