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Woolwich approves Elmira splash pad project

Its projected operating costs pared back a bit, a splash pad proposed for Elmira got the green light from Woolwich councillors Tuesday night.

Responding to concerns raised by council two weeks earlier, organizers reduced the estimated annual operating costs to $30,000 from $40,000, largely by reducing the hours of operation, including dropping to 17 from 24 number of weeks the facility would be open.

The scale of the project – a 4,000-square-foot splash pad with 23 individual water features – was untouched, with organizers adamant the facility remain a large, accessible attraction. With the township unwilling to pay any of the capital costs, organizers agreed to take care of some $70,000 for the extension of water lines, technical studies and landscaping, expenses they’d hope Woolwich would cover in prepping the site.

That will mean more fundraising, splash pad committee member Shelley Martin told councillors. Fundraising efforts under the auspices of the Woolwich Recreational Facilities Foundation (WRFF) have garnered some $500,000 thus far for the Elmira project.

Bolender Park on Church Street East remains the host site, subject to geotechnical studies confirming its suitability.

The prospect of that coming back negative had WRFF’s Ruby Weber asking about alternative sites such as Gibson Park or the Woolwich Memorial Centre, with the township opting to look at contingencies over the next three or four weeks, the timeline of the geotechnical study.

The project is on a tight schedule, Martin noted, as the project needs to be completed by the June 30, 2017 deadline specified for the $150,000 in Ontario Trillium Foundation money.

“As a committee, we’re feeling a little pressed for time,” she said, noting they’d like to get work underway this fall, an option that would be even more difficult if a site change is required.

That issue remains the one unknown, as councillors got onboard despite reservations about the operating costs – even at $30,000, the bill is still three or four times the $7,500 to $10,000 a year discussed when the project was pitched last year.

“I’ve heard no complaints about possibly raising taxes to pay for splash pads,” said Coun. Scott Hahn in supporting the go-ahead with the project without reservations.

While he expressed concerns about the operating costs, Coun. Patrick Merlihan called the project a good opportunity for the community, and for rejuvenating Bolender Park.

He does, however, want to see a broader, overarching plan for the park.

“We just need to have a plan … for how we see this park going forward.”

Coun. Larry Shantz shared some of the same concerns about operating costs – “I’ve been struggling with this” – and ultimately voted against the plan, not convinced that the township could justify the expenses of a “world class” facility.

In a related matter, councillors heard from Jeff Barnard of the Breslau Lions Club, which is currently raising money for a splash pad in their community.

His group is looking at a 3,700-square-foot project, slightly smaller than the Elmira build, so costs should be comparable, he said, noting that in supporting the Elmira splash pad council would be expected to do the same in Breslau.

That project has thus far secured about $200,000 in donations.

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