What now for the old bus garage?

Now that the town owns signature property, the debate rages about what to do with it

The future of the old school district bus garage site is under discussion around the council table in Qualicum Beach.

The future of the old school district bus garage site is under discussion around the council table in Qualicum Beach.

With the old School District 69 bus garage site now belonging to the Town of Qualicum Beach, the question remains of what to do with it.

That question was front and centre at Monday night’s regular council meeting, when chief administrative officer Mark Brown reported on the progress of the deliberations to date.

The bus garage site, located strategically at the corner of Fern and Second Avenue in the uptown core, was officially acquired by the municipality on August 15 for $1.5 million after years of interest, inquiry and, finally, negotiation with the school board that owned it.

Brown said clean-up of the site has begun, along with discussions of various development options for the total 2.6 acre site, including The Old School House arts centre site, which the town already owns.

Town staff, he reported, met with consultant Jay Wollenberg of Coriolis Consulting, solicitor Don Lidstone and arts and culture management consultant, Patricia Blakely.

Brown said staff used the input from this meeting, along with community input through the process of the Arts and Culture master plan to begin work on a preliminary concept and feasibility analysis of the site.

Possible uses for the site in the town’s official community plan include a park and public square, neighbourhood pub, commercial space, artist studios and galleries, a hotel, performing arts centre, seniors centre, outdoor performance venue, parking or a movie theatre. The OCP also approves of residential development above the ground floor.

He said a request for proposal package will be prepared and distributed to potential proponents early in 2012.

In response, Coun. Jack Wilson called for focus at the site.

“There are 11 items,” he said. “Before the end of the year we should have public input and a meeting to discuss the future of the site in a more focused way.”

Wilson said his vision was to use the site to enhance tourism, hosting a film festival or festival of performing arts. Whatever use it’s put to, he added, the building should be made to stand out.

“We need the building to be striking and memorable, so people notice it when they come in and they say, ‘that’s the town with the beautiful building.’ It could be a wonderful addition to the town.”

Coun. Mary Brouilette agreed with the film festival idea, noting however that a neighbourhood pub, within walking distance of the residential area, was one of the top items mentioned. She agreed also with Wilson’s call for a striking building.

“We waited a long time to get this property,” she said. “It should be a statement coming into town.”

Brown jumped in again, noting that the list of items comes as part of the arts and culture master plan.

Coun. Barry Avis said the town has received a great deal of input on the issue, but what he sees as important is that whatever is done is best for the town and complements what it already has.

“There’s no question this is a key spot in town,” he said. “It’s the entrance to town.”

Mayor Teunis Westbroek brought up the as-yet unbroached issue of maintenance.

“The question is how do we deliver what the community wants, and how can we maintain it,” he said. “It’s one thing to buy it, but it’s another thing to maintain it. We need to know the cost and who is going to look after it. We want good value for tax dollars and we also have to be very responsible and look at what’s affordable.”

Westbroek also stressed the need to keep information flowing about the site.

“Having a public meeting towards the end of October to get more feedback would be critical to make this process and initiative successful,” he said.

The meeting to discuss the future of the site is slated to be held on October 24 at the Civic Centre, starting at 7 p.m.







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