At a recent North Saanich council meeting, biologist Kerry Finley strongly opposed the new structure, said that the airplane-themed structure was a poor fit for the area, which is a Garry oak meadow, and that it “shows a callous disregard for an important vista, of nature, history, culture, you name it.”
In a phone interview, Councillor Jack Thornburgh said he supported the idea of a park originally, but thought it would be a simpler, rustic wooden structure “on a relatively small footprint” rather than metal and plastic. Now that the pad has been laid, Thornburgh believes the play structure will be more “intrusive visually”.
“Coming down from Hospital Hill, looking down, it’s quite a bucolic scene with a Garry Oak meadow, a few trees down there and picnic tables, then Holy Trinity Church, which is a heritage church, and a lot of people are thinking that to interrupt that kind of scene with a steel and plastic aircraft climbing structure would not fit in.”
Thornburgh felt that there was not enough public consultation, saying that he thought it was just in the North Saanich newsletter a few times.
North Saanich mayor Alice Finall says the planning has not been secret, so she is confused at the opposition.
At Jubilee Park’s official opening in August 2015, Finall said plans were available for the public to look at.
“We had well over 300 people in attendance,” she said in a phone interview. “We had pictures of the proposal for the park, including these rather exotic climbing frames, we had pictures of the four proposed phases of the park, and we had a great deal of discussion with people at the time. It’s been on our website for a long time.”
Finall says she has received “at most maybe three or four letters” opposing the park or the type of structure. She also said that some letter writers who opposed the structure wanted more natural materials. At the meeting, Finall said no Garry Oaks would be removed.
Thornburgh thought that the Council was enticed by the comparatively small cost to taxpayers due to a $60,100 Canada 150 grant from the federal government, and the fact that the Victoria Airport Authority essentially donated the land (it is leased to the District for $1 a year as the land is owned by Transport Canada).
A crowdfunding campaign to make up a $44,000 shortfall has only raised about $7,000 so far, so Council approved an additional $25,000 with Thornburgh being the lone dissenter. The total budget is now $225,000.
“The lesson I’ve learned is to be more diligent from the start because some things look like a good idea and you sort of think ‘okay that does make sense, we’re short on playground space, we should go for it,’ but I don’t think we can afford to be influenced too much by things like grant money without taking a finer look at it.”