Monday, January 30, 2017

Maple Acre Library Now Open

Word got around quickly last week that the renewed Maple Acre Library opened on Tuesday. When I went by around 3:30 PM, it was a hive of activity!

Some folks worked in the Quiet Room (situated in the 1919 original Library), others used the computers in the Technology area. A senior signed up for a Library Card for the first time, and kids read and played in the new Children’s area. I met a resident reviewing the Pnyx collection (from the former Pelham Continuation School / District High School) in the Historical Society Collection reference room. At the same time, many came in for a quick tour and admired the ceiling, the natural light, and the link between the old and new.

Council and the Library Board recognized years ago that the aged Maple Acre Library branch required renewal; we struck a joint committee in 2008 to make recommendations. Because that group didn’t make progress, the Town retained a consulting firm in early-2013 to conduct facilities and operational reviews. This review recommended that the Maple Acre branch simply become a kiosk-type operation. The Library Board and the community-at-large rejected this recommendation.

To break the impasse, Council initiated creative problem solving sessions in late-2013 to early-2014, which included Council, the Board, Friends of Maple Acre Library and the community. Work on the challenge – “How might we provide the most appropriate library services in Fenwick?” – led to an April 2014 resolution of Council to “continue library services at the Maple Acre Branch.”

That spring, Council struck a tripartite working group to recommend a “state of the art, ideal, and resilient library” in Fenwick. In September, the group proposed renovating and adding on to the original 1919 Maple Acre building with a “learning commons”-type library with “rentable, flexible, multi-purpose, open space” and an area for the community’s “significant historic records.” Council accepted the report and approved a $1 million for the design / build of the facility. The same group oversaw the Library’s design and construction began last June.

On December 28, Library staff and volunteers started setting up and getting ready for the branch’s opening. While a few items need final tweaks (like the area around the ceremonial front door), the Library is operational and staff plan an Official Grand Opening in February.

The Maple Acre Library has been a part of Fenwick’s history and downtown since 1919. I am thrilled that the Library’s redevelopment maintains that history and continues Council’s commitment for the ongoing revitalization of Downtown Fenwick. I encourage you visit the renewed Library and I hope that the community enjoys and cherishes it for generations to come.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

"Dual Duty": A Less Democratic, Out-of-Date Approach

Do you think we should elect more full-time politicians in Niagara?

Current: 18 part-time Councillors,  1 full-time Mayor
Should it be harder for people to represent the views of their neighbours? Or, should anyone be able to serve part-time on local Council and offer their experiences from a job or other activities?

People are asking these thoughtful questions about the "dual duty, ward Councillor" proposal for the City of St. Catharines and Niagara Regional Councils.

Currently, St. Catharines elects 12 part-time (PT) City Councillors (two in each of six wards), and six part-time Regional Councillors ("at-large" across the City). City residents also elect a full-time (FT) Mayor who serves on both Councils. That’s 19 people (12 PT + 6 PT +1 FT = 18 PT & 1 FT) representing citizens on the two Councils.

The change would see St. Catharines represented by 13 people: the Mayor and six full-time politicians would serve on both City and Regional Councils; the other six part-time Councillors would serve only on City Council (6 FT + 6 PT + 1 FT = 6 PT & 7 FT).

Proponents suggest that by reducing the number of local representatives "communication, cooperation, and accountability" would increase between the City and Region.

Opponents suggest that the change will create six more full-time politicians (who would want "full-time wages"), attract partisans, and make local government less accountable and more out-of-touch from average citizens. Others believe it would give more control to fewer people (like at the NPCA where 11 of the 12 Niagara reps were appointed by the same Regional Council on which they serve).

Proposed: 6 full-time dual duty Councillors,
6 part-time Councillors, 1 full-time Mayor
Interestingly, the majority from across Niagara – more than 58% according to a survey last Fall – do not want the change.

And while proponents say that the dual duty "modernizes" communication and coordination of local government, we know that other Regions made similar changes more than 25 years ago. That was before AOL email (21 years old), Google (18 years), and web browsers like Netscape (21 years). That was also before the widespread use of cell/smartphones and cheap long-distance calling. At that time, everything was paper-based and getting a fax felt like a novelty.

Now, we live stream and archive Committee and Council meetings, pre-publish complete electronic agenda packages, and use smartphones, cellular iPads, texts, social media, pictures, videos, and emails to communicate instantly with colleagues, staff, and citizens.

Further changes over the last decade include routine meetings between Regional and City / Town chief administrative officers, planners, economic development officers, treasurers, engineers, transit managers, clerks, and Mayors. In some Towns – like Pelham and Fort Erie – the Regional Councillor presents written updates to local Council and answers questions every three weeks.

Because we solved these communication and coordination issues long ago, and because it will concentrate power into the hands of fewer people and increase the number of full-time politicians, I voted against the dual duty proposal last Thursday at Regional Council.

Since it was approved by a 17 to 11 vote, each local Council will also consider the proposal; please let your City, Town or Township Councillor know your thoughts.

Monday, January 16, 2017

More 2017 Community Investments

Pelham Pool in Marlene Stewart Streit Park
Last week, I wrote about some roads, bridges and sidewalk improvements in Pelham’s nearly $11 million 2017 Capital Budget. Here are some other investments:

Fire Service: Each year we continue to invest in bunker gear and replacement pagers for our dedicated Firefighters. We also reserved funds in 2018 to replace the Town’s radio equipment; the Chief continues to work with other Fire Chiefs, EMS and the Police toward consolidating all Niagara emergency services onto a common communications system.

Pool Improvements: You will recall that we renovated and improved the pool house in Marlene Stewart Streit Park a couple of years ago. This year, with the help of a Federal Government grant, we will repair and replace the pool deck, sandblast the pool “bowl,” and replace the water lines to the mechanical room. The $162,500 investment should be a great upgrade to Pelham’s well-used and well-loved pool.

Centennial Park Concession: Last year the Fabulous Fenwick Lions asked the Town to erect a permanent canopy on the Food Booth so they could stop using tents in that area for their events. This year we budgeted $27,600 for canopy, including a potential grant to support their request.

Various Park Improvements: Council also approved several improvements to Town parks, including constructing bullpens at Centennial Park Baseball Diamond 3 and Harold Black Park Diamond 2, adding netting and an infield cutout to Centennial Diamond 2, repairing the pedestrian bridge behind Harold Black, and setting aside funds to work with the community to design a new neighbourhood park on Abbott Place (behind the Lazy Loon).

Planning & Development: Council also set aside $130,000 to undertake more detailed planning – called a Secondary Plan – in East Fenwick (between Balfour and Creams Streets along Canboro Road). We also earmarked funds to hold a community “charrette” – to bring neighbours, developers, user groups, Staff and Council together – to discuss and design redevelopment options of the existing Arena property on Haist Street.

Operations Centre Improvements: Staff suggested that Council approve $227,000 to repair the Town’s Operations Centre on Tice Road. Not only would the proposed works improve the physical working conditions at the facility, the plan will also temporary relocate some Staff in preparation for the transition from the existing Arena and to the new Community Centre. The funds will repair the central building roof, improve potable water treatment, renovate the office / lunchroom / locker room area, and add a “lean-to” for outside storage. Council wanted additional information about the proposal and “red-circled” the funds pending a report this week.

To review the entire 2017 Capital Budget, please check out the Town's website at

Sunday, January 8, 2017

2017 Road, Bridges, Sidewalk Improvements

During our last meeting in December, Council approved the Town’s 2017 Capital Budget. The nearly $11 million budget includes many continued improvements to Town infrastructure.

Summersides Boulevard: Council re-approved the construction of a new street linking Downtown Fonthill (by extending Pelham Town Square) with Wellspring Way and Rice Road. The street will include a centre boulevard, trees, and wide multipurpose sidewalks/trails on both sides. Council will name it after Jim Summersides, a World War II veteran of the elite, joint Canadian-American "First Special Service Force," a dedicated member of the Royal Canadian Legion (Fonthill Branch 613), and a volunteer public speaker to school children about the travesties of war.
While much of the Eastern section was constructed as a base road last year, we have to complete the planning approvals to finalize the last, Western leg (closest to Station Street).
Council is committed to constructing this road to help better link Downtown Fonthill to other, newer developments. The road will also help open up opportunities for further residential and mixed-use development.

Station Street: As the Town continues to grow, Station Street between Regional Road 20 and Port Robinson is becoming a more important transportation link. At the same time, improving the storm sewers on Station (which are currently open ditches) will help with storm water issues in areas above Station Street. Finally, the aged watermain needs upgrading; each year we continue to remove and upgrade the old, cast iron pipes that are susceptible to leaks and cracks. Because of these challenges, the Town applied for funding from the Provincial Government to improve Station Street; we look forward to hearing funding news in early-2017.

Haist Street: While we have reconstructed most of Haist Street over the years, we are now to concentrate on the Southern section. Council approved funds to start reconstructing Haist from Welland Road to Beckett and include a bit of Welland Road (from Haist to Edward). While the road condition does need improving, the real impetuous for the works is to replace the old, cast-iron watermain.

Roland Road: The Town finally improved a deteriorated section of Roland Road (east of Sulphur Springs) last year. Now we included funds to rehabilitate Roland from the parking entrance for Shorthills Provincial Park eastward.

Maple Street: Another year, another "bridge." This one – on Maple Street just South of Sixteen Road – will be replaced with dual culverts in 2017.

Sidewalks & Road Base Repairs: The Town made several and much-needed repairs to existing sidewalks and road sections last year. Council approved increased funds – more than $275,000 – in 2017 to address and repair additional areas.

I will write more about our other planned capital improvements for 2017 next column.