Cancellation of observatory project has MHA members looking for answers

Representatives from the Mission Heritage Association say the district’s two-page press release is flawed.

Brian Antonson

Brian Antonson

The cancellation of Mission’s observatory project has many members of the Mission Heritage Association shaking their heads in dismay and looking for answers.

Representatives from the MHA say the district’s two-page press release — accompanied by 37 pages of studies and expert reports explaining the concerns and deficiencies of the project, and other building projects at Fraser River Heritage Park — is flawed.

Brian Antonson, president of the board of directors of the MHA, said the district’s claim that there were no building permits for the observatory is true. However, he said council and staff knew exactly what the MHA was doing and had no issues with construction — or at least the previous council didn’t.

The MHA’s contract to maintain Fraser River Heritage Park is coming to an end on Dec. 31, 2015. Council has announced it will not be renewing the deal and raised concerns not only about the observatory, but over other buildings being constructed on the site.

Lloyd Rash, a volunteer at Fraser River Heritage Park, has overseen most of those building projects. A former District of Mission employee, Rash said the MHA had verbal, if not written permission to begin construction of the observatory.

He explained that after getting council’s approval to start the project and creating a structural design, he went to take out a building permit.

But there were still some questions about egress and, for safety and evacuation routes, it was decided that a second exit was needed. A few other minor changes were also needed to the design.

Rash said the drawings were kept by the district  and a file was created. However, he never asked for the file number.

With the weather cooperating and volunteer workers available, Rash said they asked the building department if they could dig the foundation, even though the permit had not yet been issued. He claims he was told to “go ahead” as long as the drawings were in to the department.

“They already had the structural drawings, and it was the foundation – that wasn’t about to change. So we went from there. As opportunities came up, we put the building up,” explained Rash.

“We kept in constant touch with the building department to let them know what we were doing. We had the engineers, inspectors inspect the building as we were putting it up. The engineer has to sign off on it in the end anyway, so we used their inspectors, which is the normal way you would do that. So that’s where we got to where we’re at.”

Rash believes the construction project wasn’t unusual.

“Staff has worked very closely with us in the past and given us some latitude on different occasions and understood what we were doing and what our final outcome was. That’s all ended now,” said Rash.

The district’s release also indicated the MHA business plan was inadequate. Mission Mayor Randy Hawes referred to it as “smoke and mirrors” – a comment to which Antonson took offence.

“We believe we have built in a lot of cushioning for this,” Antonson said in regard to the plan and its revenue potential.

The MHA forecast having 179 days of the year where two school classes, of 30 students each, could attend.

The total comes to just over 10,000 students a year.

“There are 17,000 interested students in the catchment area. That’s a 7,000-student cushion,” he said.

Antonson concedes that the report on the project prepared for the district raised some good points. However, on the financial side, it calculated costs for paying staff.

“We  don’t do that. It would be done by volunteers and they don’t seem to get that.”

In 2014, the MHA tallied 9,464 volunteer hours at the park. Multiply those hours by $41, which Antonson said “would be the minimum CUPE city rate” and it becomes $388,000 saving.

“It’s fine to say you can’t run the observatory with volunteers. Well, in actual fact, everybody else does it.”

He referred to the Mission sports parks and the Clarke Foundation Theatre as examples of venues that rely on volunteers.

Also raising concern for Antonson is the district’s claim that the Fraser Valley Astronomers Society has withdrawn its support of the project, which he said is untrue.

Paul Greenhalgh, president of the society, contacted The Record by email and confirmed Antonson’s rebuttal of the district claim.

Greenhalgh said the district’s comments are “highly incorrect.”

“No delegation from the FVAS (Fraser Valley Astronomers Society) has even met with the mayor or spoken to Mission city council. We have not withdrawn support for the observatory. We find it highly unfortunate that the project is being met with such negativity,” he wrote.

As for the other building projects, which the district said have fire and building code problems, the MHA is not arguing those points.

“The whole purpose of what has happened with the building construction over the last couple of years has been to facilitate a requirement from the municipality to bring the Blackberry Kitchen up to building and fire codes. So that’s the whole crux of what we’re doing,” said Rash.

“We believe that the building issues are relatively minor,” added Antonson.

On May 1, the district told the MHA to stop construction at the park.

Don Brown, manager of the MHA, said many of the district’s concerns could have been resolved by now.

“If we hadn’t been told to stop, a lot more would have been done and some of the things that are being pointed out would not exist. They would have been fixed.”

Brown doesn’t see the district changing its mind and renewing the contract, but he doesn’t want the MHA to go quietly.

“I feel that what we’re after right now is the truth,” said Brown, adding that the MHA did nothing wrong.

It’s a difficult struggle for MHA members.

“It’s hard to build up any enthusiasm to keep fighting. My community spirit has really been undermined,” said Rash.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Fraser Health issued an overdose alert on Jan. 21, 2021 after an increase in overdoses over the past week in Chilliwack associated with a “greeny-blue/turquoise down substance.” (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Fraser Health issues drug overdose alert in Chilliwack

Alert comes after increase in overdoses associated with ‘greeny-blue/turquoise down substance’

ds
Mission potbellied-pig sanctuary mourns death of beloved old hog named Roscoe

14-year-old, 800-pound pig was ‘quite a character,’ said owner Janice Gillett

A screenshot from a local Instagram account video. The account appeared to be frequented by Mission students, and showed violent videos of students assaulting and bullying other students.
Parents, former students describe ‘culture of bullying’ in Mission schools

Nearly two dozen voices come forward speaking of abuse haunting the hallways

Vancouver/Fraser Valley CoSA holds a webinar on Jan. 26 titled Staying Safe Online.
‘Staying Safe Online’ is subject of Fraser Valley webinar

Session on Tuesday, Jan. 26 is hosted by non-profit Circles of Support and Accountability

A door is boarded up following a fire at Pho Xuan restaurant on Yale Road on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
UPDATE: Early morning fire at vacant Chilliwack restaurant was deliberately set

Fire erupted north of the Yale Road overpass at Pho Xuan, which was permanently closed

Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021 is International Lego Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Jan. 24 to 30

Lego Day, Talk Like a Grizzled Prospector Day and Puzzle Day are all coming up this week

BC Coroners Service is currently investigating a death at Canoe Cove Marina and Boatyard in North Saanich. (Black Press Media File)
Drowning death in North Saanich likely B.C.’s first in for 2021

Investigation into suspected drowning Monday night continues

Kimberly Proctor, 18, was murdered in 2010. Her family has spent many of the years since pushing for a law in her honour, that they say would help to prevent similar tragedies. (Courtesy of Jo-Anne Landolt)
Proposed law honouring murdered B.C. teen at a standstill, lacks government support

Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions has concerns with involuntary detainment portion of act

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam speaks during a daily briefing in Ottawa. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)
31 cases of COVID-19 variants detected in Canada: Health officials

Dr. Theresa Tam made announces 13 more variant COVID-19 cases in Canada

Daily COVID-19 cases reported to each B.C. health region, to Jan. 20, 2021. Island Health in blue, Northern Health green, Interior Health orange, Vancouver Coastal in red and Fraser Health in purple. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate stays stable with 508 cases Friday

Vaccine delivered to more than 110,000 high-risk people

The District of Saanich’s communications team decided to take part in a viral trend on Thursday and photoshopped U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders into a staff meeting photo. (District of Saanich/Twitter)
Bernie Sanders makes guest appearance municipal staff meeting in B.C.

Vancouver Island firefighters jump on viral trend of photoshopped U.S. senator

School District 57 headquarters in Prince George. (Mark Nielsen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter)
Prince George school district settles with sexual abuse victim

Terms were part of an out-of-court settlement reached with Michael Bruneau, nearly four years after he filed a lawsuit

Surrey provincial court. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
New COVID-19 protocols set for provincial courthouses

The new rules were issued on Jan. 21, and took effect immediately

Police in Vancouver looking for male suspect who allegedly spat and attacked a store manager for not wearing a mask, at 7-Eleven near Alma Street and West 10th Avenue just before noon on Dec. 17, 2020. (Vancouver police handout)
VIDEO: Man spits on 7-Eleven manager over mask rule, sparking Vancouver police probe

‘Unfortunately, the store manager sustained a cut to his head during the assault’

Most Read