What better contractor to create a park master plan, than a group of masters candidates?
That’s the path chosen by the City of Parksville, which hired students from Vancouver Island University’s masters in public planning program to gather public input and create a draft master plan for its crown jewel, Community Park.
“We were hoping to hire a consultant, but didn’t get quite the proposals we felt we could work with,” city communications director Deb Tardiff said Thursday as VIU students hosted their latest public engagement session just off the boardwalk in the park. “How fortunate we are to have the students do this. Their engagement is ten-fold what we could have gotten for the money (for a professional consultant).”
The students, including a cadre from the Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Region project, have been working in Parksville since the beginning of the year. Engagement that began with face-to-face interviews with people on the street has expanded to include a comprehensive inventory of the city’s parks — “I think they found parks some of us didn’t even know we had,” Tardiff joked — regular updates at public council meetings, and assisting in the structure of an online resident survey, which continues through June 16.
Thursday’s Gazebo Talks appearance at Community Park is part of a final push by the students to gather information before their planned presentation of a preliminary master plan to council on Aug. 21. It was designed to gather input from all users of the park, both residents and visitors, and both adults and children.
Students will continue to canvass the park throughout July, spending two days each week on-site.
The overwhelming message of Thursday’s Gazebo Talk? Don’t mess up our park.
“People love the park the way it is; that’s the main thing we’re hearing today,” student Ashley Van Acken said. “And they want to keep the water park.”
The students shared information and gathered input for five hours under a huge canopy erected alongside the boardwalk gazebo. About 120 visitors stopped to chat with the group of 15 students in the first three hours, said student Ryan Frederickson.
“Not everyone likes change,” he said. “You can see different responses in different age groups. Some like the choices of the food trucks, while some want a permanent concession, but there’s no call for big changes. Maybe some more connectivity to trails.”
“Some people want to connect to Rathtrevor (Beach Provincial Park),” Van Acken added.
As the Gazebo Talk got down to its final hour and a half, project lead Sarah Lumley took a couple fellow students to the nearby picnic pavillion and continued their survey with dozens of members of the Parksville &District Chamber of Commerce, who were hosting their June dinner.
“People are really happy with the park the way it is,” said Frederickson. “Maintenance is OK, but they don’t want any development. Especially not in the green spaces.”