Perhaps heeding the adage that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone, Woolwich council this week opted out of a proposal that would have swapped township land for a new school and improvements to Breslau Memorial Park.
While it may not have been paradise at risk of being paved over, residents out at Tuesday night’s meeting were adamant the park was worth saving in its current configuration. In a 3-2 vote, councillors agreed.
The proposal floated by the Waterloo Catholic District School Board was for the township to sell it a portion of land in the park. The $1.75-million deal would allow for 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.
The plan also envisioned the construction of a new building that would provide washrooms, a concession stand and house the mechanical plant for a community-built splash pad.
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The plan to sell parkland to the school board has been a divisive issue since it was first made public earlier this year. Even after township efforts to get the word out, the community remains divided.
Informal canvassing of households in Breslau by a community taskforce appointed by Woolwich netted 312 responses. Of those, 36.5 per cent were in favour, 34.6 per cent opposed and 21.5 per cent undecided. The remaining 7.4 per cent didn’t answer or register an opinion.
Though a community taskforce found Breslau residents split in equal measures – yes, no, indifferent – opponents were the most vocal throughout the process. This week’s council meeting was no exception, with the majority of delegates speaking against the proposal.
“This is not surplus land. This land is used regularly by the community. We use it for children’s soccer. We use it for outdoor movie nights. We use it for community events like Family Fun Day and Winterfest. Kids play here. We don’t need to put a school and library there to create a community hub. The community hub already exists – it is the park and community centre,” said Bill Smith, who served on the community taskforce.
Noting that the fact Breslau has more parkland per capita than any other settlement in the township was being touted as a reason to sell some of it off, fellow taskforce member Matthew VanderMeer pointed out the town has very few other services.
“Breslau does not have a main street. Breslau does not have shops. Breslau does not have significant retail. It does not have a centre. We don’t have a place that is ours. We have parkland,” he said. “We don’t have those other amenities in Breslau – leave the parkland alone.”
For Lisa Nadon, a past president of the Breslau Rec. Association who was involved in the original community centre project, the school proposal threatens what is an important community hub.
“This is our one gathering place,” she stressed. “I don’t think we’re losing anything by saying no to this project.”
She and others speaking out against the project argued that Breslau has a history of coming together to raise money for community projects. Rather than selling off parkland, residents can raise the needed money.
“There are other options – it’s not simply a yes or no to a school coming to this location,” said Josh Moore.
Looking to counter some of the negatives being thrown at councillors, Wayne Wright argued there’s a sizeable number of fellow Breslau residents in favour of the proposal.
As a member of the taskforce – he came to the process as an undecided, being swayed to vote yes – he said he heard from many people who saw benefits in the deal.
“I did find people who support this project, and I didn’t have to go far to find them – they live in our community.”
The trade-off of land for what the school board offered meant the community could quickly get the new amenities that might take years, if ever, to develop otherwise, he noted.
“We give up so little, but gain so much more.”
Councillors, who admitted to being torn about a decision, first considered deferring a decision – Coun. Scott Hahn was absent – before finally voting in recognition of the residents who filled the gallery.
In a recorded vote, councillors Mark Bauman, Patrick Merlihan and Larry Shantz voted against the staff recommendation to approve the deal. Coun. Murray Martin and Mayor Sandy Shantz voted in favour.
A Ward 3 councillor who sat on the taskforce as a non-voting member, Shantz said the lack of a definitive answer from the community – there was no overwhelming support, for instance – helped settle his ‘no’ vote. He added that he was concerned that building a school on the land would essentially split the community centre from the playground, and would limit any future expansion on the site.
Council meets again next Tuesday night to formalize this week’s decision.