City Has No Interest In Rebuilding the Heart of a North Vancouver Community

Submitted by Guy Heywood,  former CNV Councillor and 50 year resident

City Has No Interest In Rebuilding the Heart of a North Vancouver Community

It must be obvious to everyone by now that the City government is neither willing nor able to rebuild the Harry Jerome recreation to serve all North Vancouver the way it was intended to when built 50 years ago.

While the Harry Jerome center is at the center of North Vancouver, it’s at the edge of the City. It’s too close to a City/District boundary most people don’t know about or ignore and more than half of the users are from outside the City.   

Rebuilding it may be a priority for residents of both the City and District but the City government, acting by itself, will not and cannot rebuild it in a way that would make sense for North Vancouver as a whole.

It wasn’t meant to be this way.

In the original deal between the City, District and federal government when the facility was built, the City and District agreed to share ownership and operating costs on a 50/50 basis. This made sense since users of the facility, then and now, come roughly 50/50 from each municipality.

During the mid-90s the City government bought the District’s half share in the facility and the lands that it sat on. It paid by forgiving a debt of several million dollars the District owed for the construction of a new police station.

When asked what benefit there was for the City, the former City Manager who was director of finance at the time, said it was “to control development on the site”.

This made no sense. The land was zoned for public use and park. The City already controlled if and how it was developed.

Given 50% of users were from the District, it would have made more sense to keep the District as half owner. While it would naturally have a say in how and when the facility was rebuilt, there would be a much stronger case for the District to continue to share the operating costs.

Ever since rebuilding Harry Jerome became a priority over ten years ago, the City has been doing everything it can to avoid the no-win situation they got themselves into. What’s right for the City inside the awkward boundary drawn by its founding developers is not going to be right for North Vancouver. 

The decision of City Council to delay and study more is consistent with past practice. That City staff has been told to prepare a “City recreation strategy” is new and almost certainly signals the end of the North Vancouver Recreation and Culture Commission, or ‘Rec Commission’ as most of us have known it over the years.

For over 50 years the Rec Commission has been an unusually successful example of collaboration between peer levels of government and came into existence because of the Harry Jerome centre.

That deal required the City and District to create a jointly owned organization to run the new facility and as the District built more recreation facilities, they were operated by the Rec Commission as well. The formula for sharing operating costs was changed to one based on users and tended to match the ratio of the District and City populations.

The Rec Commission is unusual also because it’s not in the nature of local governments to collaborate. The real world of local politics and chains of command in the public sector make it all but impossible no matter how strong the public interest case is or how large the majority in an opinion poll.  

Paying out the District’s share in Harry Jerome was a dumb financial decision for the City at the time. It’s also a reason the City will make a bad decision for North Vancouver today.

Disagreement over management and cost sharing at the Rec Commission have been getting worse in past years. Councils of the past term were already arguing over cost sharing for the new facility and the new Councils are continuing the pattern with sniping at each other over social housing.

The inevitable disputes over what to build at Harry Jerome, how to pay for it and who’s going to be in charge will result in the two local governments finding their own reasons to break up the Rec Commission.  The fact the City government is doing its first ever “comprehensive” recreation plan is the beginning of the process.

It’s really too bad but just one more way the interests of North Vancouver are sacrificed by the blinkered perspectives and short-sighted thinking in it’s two municipal halls. 


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