The observatory building is coming down.
The structure located in Fraser River Heritage Park will be demolished in the coming weeks after Mission council narrowly approved the motion to remove it.
Council voted 4-3 in favour of tearing the structure down immediately, rather than leaving the “shell” of the building upright. (Only the outside portion is complete; the interior is still a dirt floor with no coverings on the walls.)
According to staff reports, it could cost up to $400,000 to complete the construction and $25,000 to tear it down.
While all seven council members seemed to agree that an observatory was never going to be completed, Couns. Pam Alexis and Danny Plecas suggested waiting for a new parks master plan to be created, in 2017, before deciding the structure’s fate.
Coun. Rhett Nicholson thought demolition should be postponed until after the summer so as not to detract from summer activities at the park.
Mayor Randy Hawes and Couns. Jenny Stevens, Jim Hinds and Carol Hamilton voted to take immediate action.
Now that the decision has been made, the observatory should be removed in the next few weeks.
“It was totally unanimous that it wasn’t going to be an observatory,” Hawes said.
“It shouldn’t take longer than a week or two, even with trying to salvage as much material as possible.”
Hawes said it’s time to move on from the debate, noting that every time the subject comes up, some people get “false expectations” that the project might be revived.
Alexis said she suggested waiting on the demolition in order to be “prudent and careful,” but noted that she was “not reconsidering the option of having an observatory in the building whatsoever.”
“All I was saying is we know a parks master plan is coming, can we possibly include it (the structure) if there is a need down the road?” she said.
Stevens, who supported the observatory when it was first planned, said she was “very sad” about how things have turned out. She called the observatory a “great concept by a group of very enthusiastic people, where the enthusiasm ran away with it.”
She added that sometimes you have to accept the fact that things don’t work out, and look to the future.
Stevens suggested the site could be the location of a fragrance garden with seating and a piece of art in the middle.
“Let’s create something positive there,” she said
The proposed observatory has been the subject of a large public debate since the idea was first approved by the previous council in 2013.
Construction began in March 2014 but the project was halted after the current council decided not to renew the park management contract with the Mission Heritage Association. Instead the district took over management of the park and construction of all remaining buildings on site, including the observatory.
A decision was then made to abandon the observatory project. At the time, the district raised several concerns including the location of the structure, the feasibility of the business plan and even the safety of the location, due to concerns regarding the nearby slope.
The Mission Heritage Association countered all of those allegations believing the location to be adequate and safe and the business plan to be sound.
Brian Antonson, president of the association, is currently in Europe, but, upon hearing that district staff had suggested the building be demolished, rather than repurposed, he contacted the Record by email.
“We’re stunned with the recommendation to demolish a building with so much potential. The educational opportunities here are vast.
“Only nine of the 63 submissions suggested demolition, 14 per cent, and yet council chose this option? How short-sighted,” he wrote, referring to the results of a public consultation held in April to discuss the fate of the structure.
Antonson also said: “We suggest the building, which is virtually finished on the outside, be left as it is until fertile minds come up with other options beyond demolition. That’s simply not morally viable.”