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Committee to gauge Breslau’s response to school proposal

A community taskforce will help decide the fate of a proposal to build a new elementary school on parkland in Breslau.

The goal is to engage residents and get feedback on the plan, which would see Woolwich Township sell a portion of land in Breslau Memorial Park to the Waterloo Catholic District School Board. The deal will provide for $1.75 million in upgrades to the park and community centre, as well as community access to new facilities, including a 5,000-square-foot library operated by the Region of Waterloo.

Reaction thus far has been largely negative from those residents closest to the site, with others seeing the benefits of the partnership.

In approving the taskforce concept Tuesday night, Woolwich council called for input from a wider range of village residents before making a decision on the project.

Coun. Patrick Merlihan said the process has to be meaningful in order to counter residents’ impression that the outcome is a foregone conclusion – “There is some distrust in the community.”

The township has heard from only a small number of residents to this point, noted Coun. Murray Martin.

The taskforce will be made up of nine members: six representatives of Breslau residents – two who’ve expressed opposition to the project, two in favour and two undecided – someone from council, a representative of the St. Boniface parent committee and a neutral, third-party chair.

The township is accepting applications for committee membership until April 10. The group is expected to hear input from various stakeholders and the public prior to making recommendations back to council in June.

One group eager to provide input is the Breslau Lions Club. The group has been working towards building a splash pad in the park, but that project is on hold while the township explores the partnership opportunity with the school board.

Ideally, said director of recreation and facilities Karen Makela, the splash pad would be built as part of the larger upgrade project if the school deal goes ahead.

Addressing councillors this week, Lions Club member Jeff Barnard said the group hasn’t had much information about the larger project and its impact on the splash pad. The club had been hoping to go ahead in 2015, but that’s not going to happen now.

Having gathered up $50,000 towards the splash pad’s estimated $300,000 to $400,000 price tag, the group has put fundraising on hold while the school board proposal plays out.

“Right now we’re sort of at a standstill until we get the school issue resolved,” he said, noting the club would like to know how much money might be saved by combining the work with the wider improvements to the park.

Given that the township would have to extend municipal water and sewer services to the location of the pad, it makes sense to do all of the upgrades “in one fell swoop,” said Makela, adding she would expect there to be cost savings due to the economy of scale.

If the school project goes ahead, the plan is to construct a new building that would provide washrooms, a concession stand and house the mechanical plant for the splash pad. Those costs aren’t part of the Lions’ project, she added.

Other upgrades to the park should the larger project proceed include relocating the lower baseball diamond to provide a buffer between the home run fence and neighbouring homes, new lighting, resurfacing the tennis courts and installing new fencing, upgrades to the soccer field, improvements to the parking lot and creating a multi-use trail system.

In addition, the school board would pay for upgrades to the community centre in order to accommodate a shared-use agreement with the township.

The splash pad would be over and above those improvements, said Makela.

For Barnard, the timing is a key question, as is whether or not the splash pad could be funded in part by development charges – money collected from builders for every new home they construct.

That project is eligible under the development charges bylaw – up to 72 per cent of costs can be covered, said director of finance Richard Petherick – but there had been no discussion of that with the Lions previously.

Barnard said the group is concerned about the larger township project’s potential impact on its fundraising drive, though the goal is to get the splash pad built.

“At the end of the day, our goal is to get more facilities for the citizens of Breslau.”

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