The provincial and federal governments don’t want to hear duelling banjos while considering grant applications.
The District of Tofino and West Coast Multiplex Society are competing for the same funding opportunities, causing “mutually assured destruction,” according to Tofino’s manager of community sustainability Aaron Rodgers.
“If we both continue applying for these grants, neither project is going to go forward. So, something’s gotta give. Whether that’s us stepping away and allowing that process to unfold or whether it’s an agreement not to apply for the same grants anymore, or something else,” Rodgers said during an Aug. 25 presentation to council.
Tofino has long yearned for a new gymnasium and has proposed a roughly 13,000 sq. ft recreational and cultural space that would be designed to accommodate up to 700 people for various activities and events for Tofino and the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation. The project carries an estimated price tag of $10 million.
The West Coast Multiplex is a two-phase project, the first phase being an ice rink and the second being a swimming pool, planned to be built on Alberni Valley Regional District land near Long Beach Airport. The project is expected to cost roughly $18 million.
Both Tofino and the Multiplex Society applied for funding from the same Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program purse, but both applications were recently denied.
“Probably the biggest point that was raised was there’s some confusion about two similar applications coming from this part of the world, that would be the district of Tofino’s project as well as the West Coast Multiplex project,” Rodgers said.
The Westerly News was unable to reach West Coast Multiplex Society co-chair Samantha Hackett by presstime, but the society did announce in an Aug. 14 statement that it intends to reapply for funding from the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program next month.
“The grant application received great feedback from the provincial government and the Society will re-apply with a few suggested changes for the second intake,” the statement reads, in part.
Tofino has chosen not to reapply for funding for its gym facility and, instead, is pressing pause on the project and plans to reach out to the Multiplex Society to seek common ground, though council did agree to allocate $5,000 towards some cost-estimate work.
“This will give us some time to talk with the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation and also have a really solid discussion with the West Coast Multiplex Society about the two projects.” Rodgers said, adding that he’s skeptical of the society’s application hitting pay-dirt.
“I can tell council that, after spending a lot of time with these grant applications, I’m not sure how the multiplex is fundable under the current plan. If they’re putting forward another $18 million plan, it’s quite clearly not within the funding envelopes there. So, even with us not applying, I’m not sure how that project moves forward.”
Tofino mayor Josie Osborne said Tofino, School District 70, the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation and the West Coast Multiplex society need to deliver a unified message when asking for funding from higher levels of government, rather than put competing projects forward.
“I know in my conversations with folks like our MLA and our MP, that it is unhelpful…It’s not politically expedient for them to deliver a capital project in this region where it’s choosing sides. That’s what I think it feels like for them,” she said.
“I’m also going to say I’m a little bit hesitant about the attractiveness of new things and I still have a lot of concerns, as I’ve expressed all along with the multiplex [society] about the operating costs and that we, kind of, underestimate those, or that we think in a very optimistic way of what it’s really going to be, but it turns out to be more than we thought…I think we just have to be really realistic and honest with ourselves about what a new facility means in the community, whether it’s a pool or a gym. As you know, I’m not a big fan of the ice rink.”
Coun. Duncan McMaster suggested a swimming pool should be a higher priority than an ice rink.
“I would say, when we talk to each other, we should be throwing a pool into the mix, because it’s still ridiculous that we live on the Coast and we don’t have a place for people to swim,” he said.
Coun. Dan Law said he agreed with pressing pause on the district’s gym pursuit, but added that he doesn’t want to see the project fall off the back-burner.
“I’m all for pausing, but pausing with intention and maybe even with increased determination to get some local recreational amenities,” he said.
“I don’t want to see this disappear,” he said.
Council agreed to direct its staff to convene a meeting with the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation, School District 70, the Multiplex Society and the District of Tofino to discuss recreational facilities in the region.
“I think the most important thing we can do next is to sit down with the different groups and hash this out, as hard as it could be,” Osborne said.
READ MORE: New gym project looks unlikely for Tofino