The Township's proposed plans for the former Aldergrove Elementary School site as a new community recreation centre

The Township's proposed plans for the former Aldergrove Elementary School site as a new community recreation centre

Have realistic expectations on Aldergrove recreation centre plans

The Star's editor weighs in on proposed plans for Aldergrove's new community centre and other Township facilities.

Years of negotiations have finally resulted in the successful conclusion of Aldergrove Elks club’s aim to be part of the planned new Aldergrove community centre in the former Aldergrove Elementary School site.

Last week the Aldergrove Elks received the keys to the historic 1912 heritage school building. In exchange for a substantial financial contribution from the Elks, consisting of a portion of the money the Elks received from the sale of their former hall, the Elks will have the lower floor of the old school for their use in the years to come, as well as naming rights for a portion of the planned recreational development.

“I’ve been talking to, lobbying the Township, MLA Rich Coleman, the education ministry for four years about doing this. It’s good to see it finally happen,” said John Jackman, the past leader of the Elks, last week.

This news should serve as a timely lesson for the rest of us, especially the armchair critics who are currently arguing that the planned facility is happening too quickly or too slowly, or that it is being done at the expense of others.

The fact is that the Township has acquired the former school property, deemed surplus by the education ministry, in a fashion no different than any others in the past. The Township used the same funding sources to purchase the land that it used to purchase other properties — such as the Fort to Fort Trail, the Langley Events Centre, the Aldergrove Athletic Park, the Walnut Grove Aquatic Centre, and so on.

The same funding sources also provided the Township’s $700,000 contribution to the 163-acre West Creek Wetlands purchase in 2007, a Metro Vancouver Parks facility valued at $3.5 million.

The funding source for all these acquisitions is a time-honoured mix of capital from the Township’s development cost charges reserves and sales of surplus properties from the Township’s extensive portfolio of land in Langley.

The Township also works with Langley School District to provide properties for new schools at the best prices and optimal locations for the education ministry. The Township places its municipal parks adjacent to these schools, whenever possible.

It is intelligent and co-operative planning, with the best interests of the community foremost in mind. And in the case of the former Aldergrove Elementary site, the school district is reciprocating by selling it to the Township on the proviso that it be used for the community’s benefit.

It took a little longer for this sale to go through as the education ministry had implemented a policy that schools which had been shuttered should be withheld from sale in the event that the schools may be required in the future. It took years of lobbying the education bureaucracy to convince it that the century-old Aldergrove Elementary site was inappropriate for use as a school today and was surplus to its needs.

Now that the title to the property is in the Township’s hands, the significant contribution by the Aldergrove Elks serves as a reminder that while public input is valid, cash also talks.

Aldergrove Athletic Park would not have superb soccer and baseball fields, two all-weather fields and a clubhouse without significant contributions from Aldergrove sports clubs and the community. Langley Events Centre would not have its facilities without the significant contributions from Langley Gymnastics Foundation, Trinity Western University and others in the community. The same is true of the Aldergrove Kinsmen Community Centre and the West Creek Wetlands park, and pretty well every other public facility in Langley.

All of these things took the will of people who stepped up and not only offered their opinions, but also their contributions of cash and volunteer labour to make those dreams come true. These people tempered their idealism with realistic expectations and the inevitable compromises that are required to reach a consensus.

There is a lot of merit to the Township’s proposed plans for the new community centre. The public library will have twice its current space. There are two swimming pools, a new ice arena and considerably more space for public exercise and training equipment than is currently offered at the Kinsmen Centre. And there is a good opportunity for other community groups to take over the Kinsmen Centre, which this town has outgrown since it was built in the mid-’80s.

Centralizing and expanding all of these services in one location makes so much sense financially, as it would reduce operating and staffing costs, as well as attract more users. The bottom line will be savings to the taxpayers, and ideally to the users.

How can this facility best serve the overall community, from toddlers through to seniors? It is vital that the community keeps this aspect in mind as we move into the next stages of planning this facility.

And, how can we help pay for it, whether it’s a modest bake sale or bottle drive or a sizable legacy contribution?

This advice also applies to those who wish to preserve the McLellan Forest and Gray Pit properties in Glen Valley. As it stands the Township has taken the properties off the market, but there is no park development or management plan in place for either and nothing to prohibit a future council and administration from selling any of it.

They should follow the example of the local citizens, some of them mere adolescents, who raised millions of dollars and public support for the purchase of the West Creek Wetlands, which sits on the hill above Glen Valley. It took a lot of hard work and money but this 163 acre parcel is preserved in perpetuity, and has a Metro Parks management plan that ensures there are no inappropriate uses that endanger the hundreds of wildlife species that call it home.