In order to serve our recreational and community needs after school hours, the community needs to be properly consulted through a planned community engagement and consultation process.
By Sylvia Nickerson
Published April 11, 2013
On November 9, 2010, the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) officially opened the new Dr. J. Edgar Davey Elementary School to much fanfare. Present for the Grand Opening were Ward 2 City Councillor (and Mayor-elect) Bob Bratina, and HWDSB Director of Education John Malloy.
The new building, home to both Dr. Davey Elementary and the new Beasley Community Centre, was set to revolutionize the Beasley neighbourhood, which has been described in the media as one of the poorest urban areas in Canada.
The new Beasley Community Centre, attached to Dr. Davey Elementary School (Image Credit: Google Street View)
In a HWDSB press release from 2010, Rob Faulkner explained:
At Ferguson and Wilson, [Dr. Davey] will be a hub for the community: a joint effort by HWDSB and the City of Hamilton [has] led to a new community centre adjacent to the school. This centre - with an Ontario Early Years Centre, meeting rooms, and space for future programming like dance or cooking classes - is attached to the school with secure interior doors.
Former Dr. Davey principal Leah Schwenger pointed out in a video interview with The Spectator that the new facility will allow for community use of the gyms after school hours, as well as the library, computer room and yoga studio on the second floor.
Mayor Bratina has claimed the building of the new Beasley Community Centre as one of his principal career achievements.
As part of the redevelopment of Dr. Davey and the construction of the new Beasley Community Centre, the City of Hamilton gave the School Board [PDF] $3 million and a section of Beasley Park.
It was assumed that the small box-like old Beasley Community Centre, a one-room cinderblock building adjacent to Hydro One's Elgin transformer station, would be demolished.
Beasley Community Centre site plan (Image Credit: City of Hamilton)
Ground floor, community centre and gym highlighted
Second floor, community use space over community centre highlighted
Unfortunately, the state of the Beasley Community Centre (BCC) in 2013 suggests that collaboration between the City of Hamilton and the HWDSB on this "community hub" has not measured up to its billing on several fronts.
Locking doors were designed to separate the community Centre from Dr. Davey Elementary. After school hours and on weekends, the doors would be locked and the community Centre facility would operate independently of the school. 1
However, these locking doors were never installed in the building during its construction. It remains a mystery why the HWDSB and the City of Hamilton approved the construction despite the fact that the builder failed to include this critical feature. However, a major issue with this facility arose the day both organizations approved a building that lacked the major feature enabling it to fulfill its original design.
Today, almost three years after opening its doors, the community Centre operates at one third of its planned capacity. Community Centre activities take place on only the first floor of what could have been a three-floor facility.
The yoga studio on the second floor of the Beasley Community Centre. While the original plan was for this room to be used for community programming after hours, at the moment teachers at Dr. Davey use it for after-work fitness and students use it during classes (Photograph by Sylvia Nickerson)
On the second floor, the school library, computer room and yoga studio are not available for community programming through the City of Hamilton in part because nothing has been done to rectify the locking-door problem, and in part because the HWDSB has decided that the second and third floors of the BCC are actually Dr. Davey school property, and not part of the BCC.
Even on the first floor, which is clearly identified as a community space, access to the facility and running community programming has been a challenge. The school board has required that a custodian be on duty whenever the community Centre is open for programming after-school and on weekends.
Since 2010, the City of Hamilton has been paying the HWDSB to retain a custodian on site in order to run programming in the Beasley Community Centre. 2
At the moment the City is negotiating with the school board to install a fixture that would allow the first floor and gym to operate separately from the school. Community usage of the second and third floors, and their inclusion in the Beasley Community Centre facility, is still up in the air. 3
Apart from a lack of motivation on the part of the HWDSB and City to resolve the fundamental design flaw in the building, one other major issue surrounding the management of this facility remains unresolved.
The computer room on the second floor of the Beasley Community Centre. Former Dr. Davey Principal Leah Schwenger envisioned this for community use after-hours (Photograph by Sylvia Nickerson)
As the Beasley Community Centre is a "community centre" and not a "recreation Centre". Because of its location in what the city has deemed a priority neighbourhood, it has never been the intention of the City of Hamilton to deliver recreational services here. Instead, the City will contract out third-party delivery of recreational and/or community services in this facility.
Currently, the City of Hamilton Recreation Department is negotiating a contract with Wesley Urban Ministries (WUM) to provide services and programs to the Beasley community using the Beasley Community Centre facility.
The contract between the City of Hamilton and Wesley Urban Ministries to provide services to the Beasley community will be put forward for Council for approval at the Emergency and Community Services Committee on May 19, 2013.
The contract between WUM and the City has been negotiated without any process for community consultation over service delivery. Rather than put a contract to deliver service out to tender, the City has aligned with WUM to deliver services here.
The process in which the City has engaged WUM has not been transparent. No community consultation process has been undertaken by either the City of Hamilton or Wesley Urban Ministries to discover what community or recreational programming should be provided, in this contract, to Beasley.
As a way to address concerns expressed by residents in the summer of 2012, the Beasley Neighbourhood Association requested more engagement in the planning and execution of recreation and community services provided to the Beasley neighbourhood. In fact since 2009 residents of Beasley have been asking to be consulted about the planning and operation of the BCC and of community services provided to our neighbourhood. 4
In the fall of 2012 a new committee called the Beasley Community Centre(s) Steering Committee was struck to help resolve the above-mentioned issues at the BCC and help guide future programming in the facility.
This committee includes Deb Clinton and Julie Matson from the City of Hamilton Recreation Department, Denise Scott from Wesley Urban Ministries, Gerry Smith from Dr. Davey Elementary, Suzanne Hussey from Dr. Davey Parent Council and Jeanette Eby, Matt Thompson, Bill Simone and myself representing the Beasley Neighbourhood Association.
Since its inception in the fall of 2012 this committee has met three times.
While this committee purports to make the Beasley community an equal partner in the functioning of the facilities being operated in its name, our voice is not being respected and valued in this process. Here is why.
First of all, the City of Hamilton is organizing third-party delivery of recreational services in Beasley without a process to tender this contract, or without putting out a request for proposals on this project.
Why not? When we asked why we could not have various agencies offer proposals for what services they could provide in Beasley, we were told that having the City follow an RFP option in this case would be highly detrimental for our community. We were told that the RFP process would result in the cessation of services in our priority neighbourhood.
Quoting from the minutes of a November 2012 meeting (recorded by Deb Clinton, City of Hamilton), it was explained to us:
An RFP model would require a longer time frame. Current programming would be delayed or stopped and potentially a new licensing agreement would have to be negotiated with the Board of Ed. Community involvement would also be minimized as the City's Procurement Division would handle the process. The benefits of using a Community model include consistency in current programs and services. Is in compliance with the current agreement that the City has with the Board of Education. The process and evaluation of service can be informed by all stakeholders. 5
Since the beginning of this process, it has been the wish of the City of Hamilton and WUM to expedite the contractual agreement between them, and effect the transition of responsibility for this facility from the City to WUM as soon as possible. 6
When the Beasley Neighbourhood Association decided to accept WUM as the deliverer of services to Beasley, we then asked to be included as an equal partner in the process of deciding what the City was agreeing to in the contract between the City and WUM.
There, too, we have been blocked from being an equal partner in the process. In the minutes from a February meeting, it is recorded:
Deb [Clinton] advised members of the "high level" contents of the Operations Agreement. Sylvia [Nickerson] indicated the members of the BNA would still like to review the agreement prior to the Council Report." 7
To date, we have still not been advised as to the contents of the Operations Agreement between the City and WUM. We know neither how much money the City is offering WUM, nor what services we can expect to be provided in return for that money.
Moreover, WUM and the City believe that this committee is the forum at which the "community model" of service delivery will be enacted. However, the Beasley Neighbourhood Association and its representatives do not and cannot know all the needs of the Beasley neighbourhood.
Why has a process for community engagement and consultation about recreational programming not been carried out by the City of Hamilton in Beasley, as it has been in other Hamilton neighbourhoods? 8
Why has Wesley not been asked to undertake a comprehensive community engagement process in its bid to become Beasley's main provider of recreational and community services?
Secondly, the Board of Education has not made the resolution of recreation and community needs in the Beasley Community a priority. To date, the only communication the Beasley Neighbourhood Association has received from our school board Trustee Judith Bishop on the subject is an e-mail of February 18, 2013, in which she assured us she was looking into the problem of the BCC and "had not given up". 9
Dr. Davey Principal Gerry Smith is the only representative from the HWDSB who has attended one of our meetings attempting to resolve the problems at the community centre.
Meanwhile, the City is failing to use its leverage in bargaining with the HWDSB to achieve a fully functional Beasley Community Centre. The HWDSB is now being given a lease agreement on the old Beasley Community Centre to run programming that is already spilling over from over-subscribed Dr. Davey School (Dr. Davey's daily morning nutrition program and twice-weekly autism programming are currently using City of Hamilton space in the old Beasley Community Centre). 10
The City is handing the keys to the old BCC (a City of Hamilton property) over to the HWDSB without demanding that the HWDSB cooperate by installing a locking door, and allowing the second and third floors to become part of the Beasley Community Centre for after-school community use.
At the same time, the City of Hamilton is making it difficult for grassroots community groups to flourish in Beasley. The Beasley Neighbourhood Association, which has been promised keyed access to the community facilities (and had been asking for this since facility plans were made in 2009), remains without a lease agreement or keyed access.
The City of Hamilton, in compliance with direction from their Risk Management division, is also asking community groups in Beasley, like the Hamilton Skateboard Assembly and the Beasley Neighbourhood Association, to pay large sums to insure traditional community events.
In priority neighbourhoods such as Beasley, community groups are doing the kind of neighbourhood development that the City of Hamilton says our residents need the most. Why aren't they supporting community groups to do community building work?
While their 2010 press release promised that Dr. Davey "will be a hub for the community", the HWDSB and City of Hamilton have not enacted the "hub" model in Beasley in the way that that they set out to. Nor have they been flexible enough to meaningfully include in the process an engaged community group, in the form of the Beasley Neighbourhood Association, who has wanted to help shape "the hub" we were promised, on our community's own terms.
In the midst of two, possibly three, organizations who all play a role in the functioning and management of this facility, it is the community who is not benefiting as much as we could from the project.
Before the HWDSB and the City of Hamilton enter into a further collaboration on a high school and recreational complex for the stadium/Pan-Am precinct, I would suggest that they fix the problems that continue to exist on a past collaboration of this kind.
Also, if there is an active community organization in the stadium precinct area, I hope that they will be aware the bureaucracy that could confront them if a similar hub model is suggested for the new facility in their neighbourhood.
I would like to point out that the Beasley Community Centre and Dr. Davey School are deeply valued in Beasley. Beasley is a neighbourhood full of parking lots, four-lane one-way streets, vacant buildings, and land with a legacy of past commercial and industrial use. These aspects of Beasley can divide neighbours from one another.
For this reason residents need a space to meet and to play that we can feel confident is a safe space. For these reasons and more, the Beasley Community Centre space is vital, and possibly the most important place of congregation in our community.
Current programming being delivered by Wesley Urban Ministries in Beasley, including the Ontario Early Years Centre, is a very valuable service that is benefiting our community, as well, and I hope this continues.
We want the HWDSB and City of Hamilton to make it a priority to bring the facility in line with its original goal, which was to serve our recreational and community needs after school hours. In order for programming to really reflect community needs, the community needs to be properly consulted through a planned community engagement and consultation process.
Now that the federal government has scrapped the long form census, municipalities and community service providers are going to have to work harder to find out who and what a community is, and how best to design services and programs best suited to the demographic. Communities as diverse and dynamic as Beasley deserve no less.
1. Several public schools are attached to city of Hamilton recreational facilities, including Dalewood Public School and Dalewood Recreation Centre, and Ryerson Middle School and Ryerson Recreation Centre, and Cathy Wever Elementary School and the Norman Pinky Lewis Recreation Centre. All these Recreation Centres have programming schedules listed on the City of Hamilton website. For instance, see Pinky Lewis general interest recreation schedule. There is no such listing for the Beasley Community Centre.
2. Minutes from November 28, 2012 meeting of the Beasley Community Centre(s) Steering Committee.
3. Minutes from January 29, 2013 meeting of the Beasley Community Centre(s) Steering Committee.
4. Minutes of the first meeting between Beasley Neighbour for Neighbour and City of Hamilton Recreational staff regarding the Beasley Community Centre, November 12, 2009.
5. Minutes from November 28, 2012 meeting of the Beasley Community Centre(s) Steering Committee.
6. "Current time lines for the transfer of operation of the BCC are very tight. It is anticipated that a Report to City Council recommending the transfer will be presented in April. If approved transition plans will be in place for the month of May with the transfer taking place June 1st." Minutes from January 29, 2013 meeting of the Beasley Community Centre(s) Steering Committee.
7. Minutes from February 26, 2013 meeting of the Beasley Community Centre(s) steering Committee.
8. "The City of Hamilton's Recreation Division with support from Ward 1 Councilor Brian McHattie has taken a lead role in facilitating a public consultation and online survey regarding community ideas for this space. This consultation process along with a community profile and the City of Hamilton's Use, Renovation and Replacement Study of the Hamilton Recreation and Public-Use Facilities, 2008 will help provide recommendations for programming at the Zion Korean United Church. Ultimately the use of space and recreational programming will be chosen by the Zion Korean United Church elders and partnering recreational service provider within the confines of the City's zoning bylaws" Strathcona Recreation Development Information Update, November 2012.
9. Judith Bishop to Sylvia Nickerson, private e-mail correspondence, February 18, 2013
10. See Terms of Reference, Beasley Community Centre(s) Steering Committee. See also "Beasley Community Centre(s) Program Schedule Winter-Spring 2013", City of Hamilton document.
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