Observatory decision in interest of taxpayers: Mayor

Cancellation of project by Mission council leads to counter-claims

Mission council

Mission council is unanimous — it will be taking over management of Fraser River Heritage Park at the end of the year.

Mayor Randy Hawes made that clear Tuesday, as he responded to some of the comments made about the controversial observatory project which is a topic of disagreement between council and the Mission Heritage Association, which has operated the park since its inception in 1986.

The District of Mission invoked a clause in the contract last December, giving notice that it planned to take over park operations in December of this year.

“Council is unanimous and is not changing its plan. It is a decision we had to make in the interests of taxpayers. All this carping is destructive and divisive,” the mayor said.

Hawes responded to comments made by Paul Greenhalgh, president of the Fraser Valley Astronomers Society, that no delegation from his group had ever spoken to Mission council or the mayor about the observatory. A district press release issued last week indicated that “FVAS has withdrawn their support” for the project.

Greenhalgh maintained that was not true.

However, Hawes told The Record, “Mark McLaughlin, one of the (FVAS) directors, contacted one of the councillors. He said the society had told MHA that there were two other sites in Heritage Park that were much better sites, and also said that talk about charging kids to visit the observatory was contrary to what the society supports. He said it did not support charging school children.”

Hawes said he called McLaughlin after he had contacted the councillor, and the district’s press release was based on what McLaughlin told him and the councillor.

The mayor also said the district did give approval for MHA to go ahead with excavating the foundation for the observatory, but told the association to “go no further without building plans and a permit.

”There are still no building plans and a permit.”

Hawes said the plans were promised on a number of occasions but were not delivered to the chief building inspector as requested. While the district has drawings, that is not sufficient to allow building to go ahead, he said.

“The lesson council takes out of this is no project of this magnitude on publicly owned property should take place unless there is funding in place, timelines for construction and use of professionals,” he said.

He said it is going to cost the district $175,000 to bring the Clayburn (maintenance) building up to code, $300,000 to bring the Blackberry Kitchen into compliance with regulations, and another $100,000 to put in a kitchen that meets current building code requirements.

These improvements have not been in the district’s capital plan, as it has not been responsible for Heritage Park, but need to be done, he said. Thus they have an effect on other capital projects.

Hawes said the district plans to have municipal employees cut grass at the park when it takes over, but otherwise is anticipating that the park continue to have an active volunteer presence, and be operated under contract. He said the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) “doesn’t have a problem with volunteers.”

He said the district is looking at making Heritage Park even more of a public attraction, and has had discussions with the Mission folk festival directors about whether other musical events could be pursued. The popular weekly concerts in the park will continue next year.

He said the district’s primary concerns are that buildings on the site meet building code requirements, and new structures be built by professionals. The district, like all municipalities, takes liability very seriously and wants to protect taxpayers against those types of claims, he stated.