Hubris over reason?

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by Nikki Mantell on February 24, 2010

One has to wonder if Wakefield Quebec’s Rita Komendant reads the pages of this newspaper.

If she noticed our front pages over the last year and a half, she’d realize that new a community centre project can become a flashpoint for a community. Chelsea is a lesson on how delicate these projects are, and how something that was supposed to be so positive for the community can suddenly turn so sour, creating divisions between neighbour and friends that may take years to repair.

Fortunately, this is not the situation facing Wakefield. Momentum for the project is strong, the community, for the most part, is unified in its support. The intentions of Komendant, a long-time resident who has helped in other community building projects, are good: she wants the best possible building for community.

But if the architect keeps pushing for her design after this week’s announcement from the mayor and all the heads of all the groups (minus the library) who are to make a permanent home in this new building, one will have to ask if she hasn’t let ego overpower good reason.

Her design is very compelling, and she points out some areas in the existing plan that need improvement. But to suggest, this late in the game, that the community should throw out the plan that has been hammered out after months and months of consulting the groups to move in, as well as the public, is unfair and unrealistic. To radically change the plans (plans drawn up by an award-winning, internationally recognized architect known for his “green” design) put the hard-earned government funding at risk.

But perhaps more important than the money, it puts all the goodwill of the volunteers at risk. Community centres don’t magically appear, it takes passionate and determined people who invest their free time and energy to turn a dream into a reality. The co-op did everything right, from getting buy-in from the community right at the get-go by selling 1,000 memberships, to fundraising way before the government funds were secured. The community was consulted repeatedly along the way and in return threw in their support. It did not go this way for Chelsea and the painful results are still being felt.

The volunteer effort and hard earned buy-in from the community far outweigh any other aspect of the project. A U-turn at this point may very well cause those volunteers already at near burnout to throw in the towel.

Let it go. Let the project, as it is, move forward.