What happened to simple Chelsea ways?


by Nikki Mantell on May 26, 2009

By Denise Workun

While I respect the spirit of community involvement demonstrated by Chelsea residents who support the proposed Meredith Centre, I disagree that building a large recreational complex and conference centre, reducing Chelsea’s cultural and recreational budget, and adopting an “outsourced” and “entrepreneurial” operating model for community recreation is necessary or of benefit to Chelsea.

For me, Chelsea has always exemplified a simple, reduce/reuse philosophy. We recycle our clothing at the Nearly New, use our school gymnasiums for evening sports, share churches for community gatherings, ski in the forest, skate on beaver ponds, rent existing facilities like Camp Fortune for our parties, and access our community center by simply calling the municipality for the keys. This minimalist approach makes Chelsea unique. It has created a vibrant community life, with proven sustainability and success from a social, environmental, recreational and financial perspective.

The proposed Meredith Centre represents a fundamental departure from these simple attributes of Chelsea I so value.

Environmentally, I just can’t get my head around the notion being advocated that building a large recreational complex with an arena, beside a wetland, is an environmentally friendly or sustainable endeavor. Sorry, but you’ve lost me.

In terms of governance and operating models, under the Centre’s business plan the municipality will assume public debt, divest itself of a public asset (the community centre), and reduce its cultural and recreational budget by up to $75,000 annually in order to financially support a new not-for-profit corporation that would not be democratically accountable to Chelsea residents, and that would operate under an “entrepreneurial” model with salaried staff whose “incentive compensation” would be “based on business performance”. While the municipality would have representation on the corporation’s Board, it would not exercise controlling authority. These governance and operating models will disenfranchise citizens who reasonably expect democratic accountability for their public debt, or who may prefer that community recreational programming be made available to low-income residents without regard to “business performance”.

As for capital cost assumptions used in estimating the cost to build the Centre, the business plan does not include the capital expense for a sewage treatment system ($750,000) because it assumes that the Centre will hook into a sewage line yet to be built on Chelsea Rd. Further assumptions include finding an additional $100,000 in grants and a contractor who will serve as a utility to finance the geothermal system. If these assumptions fall through, who pays?

Finally, revenue projections are based on user fees for facility use, now provided free of charge at the community centre. How is this beneficial?

I am not adverse to tax increases, but prefer using public dollars to fund: the women’s shelter; Chelsea’s recycling facility; community centre renovations; recreational programming; road shoulder paving for cyclists; litter collection; public transit; environmental protection.

On June 14 I will be voting no thank-you to the Meredith Centre, not because I am lacking in vision, but to affirm the peaceful, simple, democratically accountable, and environmentally friendly Chelsea that is positively worth preserving.

Denise Workun lives in Chelsea.