Breslau Memorial Park will remain intact, as Woolwich council this week rejected the proposed sale of land to house a Catholic elementary school.
After more than three hours of impassioned pleas, most overwhelmingly opposed to the parkland deal, the audience gathered at the Breslau Community Centre waited with bated breath as councillors debated the issue then voted. An even split, 3-3, saw the motion to proceed with the sale die.
Unsure what had just happened – and wary that there might be another disappointment in the offing – the crowd that reached about 150 as the meeting started had to wait for assurances from council that the idea had been scuttled once and for all before breaking into applause.
Coun. Mark Bauman’s change of heart was the deciding factor. Initially voting against the deal with the Waterloo Catholic District School Board, he then switched his vote. Council remained split 4-2 in favour through much of the ensuing debate, with opponents turning up at meetings in hopes of a reversal. On Tuesday night at a meeting moved to Breslau specifically to maximize public input, they got what they’d been asking for.
“I listened to the community. I listened to the people who were here,” said Bauman of his decision.
Mayor Sandy Shantz and councillors Scott Hahn and Murray Martin stayed the course, voting in favour. Councillors Patrick Merlihan and Larry Shantz remained opposed.
Dozens of delegates spoke out against the project, while only handful coming out in favour. Written submissions had a similar split. If councillors were unclear about the audience’s preference, any doubt was erased when former councillor Grace Sudden, calling on council to reject the deal, asked opponents in the audience to stand – almost everyone got to his or her feet.
With the decision, Woolwich foregoes the $1.75 million and various park upgrades the school board offered for a four-acre chunk of parkland. The money was to be applied to improvements to the park. Now, the township and community members will have to come up with a new funding model to pay for upgrades and, possibly, a new library that was also part of the WCDSB proposal.
On the upside, however, council may have won back some goodwill from Breslau residents who have long felt short-changed by the township. Distrust was evident in the words of many who spoke Tuesday night.
“It’s not what’s good for the people of Breslau, it’s what good for the township’s bottom line,” said Lynn Hoffmann of Woolwich’s motivation for the deal, joining others earlier in the meeting in calling on council to drop the plan. “Breslau is being asked to give up a lot in order to gain a little from the township.”
Many of her fellow residents suggested the sale of parkland would take away a much-used community resource likely to see even more demand as Breslau continues its large growth spurt. That, in turn, would sap community spirit.
“Let us show you what the community can do,” said Elizabeth Siddorn, noting volunteer efforts and fundraising pledges would dry up if the township sold off parkland.
In light of the eventual decision, the onus is now on the community to walk the talk, noted resident Matthew VanderMeer after the meeting. A member of the taskforce that studied the proposal and a vocal opponent, he said there is hard work ahead.
“They’re throwing it back at us,” he said of council’s decision. “‘OK, Breslau, you’re telling us that you can handle it, so handle it.’”
Bauman had much the same take.
“They’re a bunch of very passionate people – they’ve challenged themselves to do this.”
The next steps will require some collaboration between township officials and residents, both groups agree. That may mean letting passions die down a little, as some of the evening’s many comments from the public were barbed. More to the point, there was a certain amount of dissent, even heckling, as by Mayor Shantz and Coun. Martin explained why they would vote in favour of the project.
Aside from informing the school board that it would have to find another location in Breslau for its new school, there’s no timeline for what comes next in revitalizing the park.