Editor's column: Making sense of lawn bowling in Richmond

I could have easily filled this paper with letters of outrage over city council’s decision to approve $5.3 million to rebuild a clubhouse for a lawn bowling club with 280 members.

Readers are mad. (See pages 4 and 6)

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At least 20 letters to the editor came in about the story, and I can’t even count the number of Facebook comments. I did see one post that basically said, “quit whining, it’s great that seniors are active” — but only one.

It probably didn’t help that we ran the lawn bowling story in the same paper as a story about how a number of Richmond’s not-for-profits are desperate for housing. In particular, we profiled the Richmond Addictions Services which has provincial funding to establish a one-stop centre (the Foundry) for youth struggling with addiction and other issues. But they can’t open because they have no ‘clubhouse’ to operate out of.

(While it may have looked like a conspiracy on our part, I promise you it wasn’t. We’re not that organized.)

Complaints about the $5.3 million expenditure varied. Some agreed with the councillors who argued that, if the facility was going to be rebuilt, it should be turned into a two storey building to create space for other groups — such as the Foundry. However, most readers just couldn’t believe that that much money was being spent on a facility that serviced so few folks while other organizations, such as Richmond’s 2,000 member-strong soccer club, is stuck with a port-a-potty. And don’t even get them started on the animal shelter.

It might seem hard to understand how city council got here, but like most things, it’s been a process. Looking back at some old news stories, I see Coun. Bill McNulty campaigned on creating a lawn bowling clubhouse back in the 2005 municipal election. In 2009/10 the city and federal government spent $350,000 and $260,000 respectively to replace two artificial turfs for the club; by 2016, the clubhouse was among the city’s top five priority civic facilities to be built or updated; in 2017 council approved $4 million to rebuild the clubhouse;  in 2018 council voted to keep the greens where they were; in 2019 council approved the 4,900 square foot facility plans and topped up the budget with an addtional $1.21 million.

In other words, the ball has been rolling on this one for some time. It would be tough to change direction at this point.

And regarding the proposal to make it two storeys to accommodate other groups, there is the issue of green space. Minoru Park will have even less green space than planned because of council’s recent decision not to demolish the old Minoru pools and turn them into lawn. I realize the proposal for the clubhouse is to increase its height, not its footprint. However, this area is supposed to be a park, a taller building  could be imposing and compromise that park ‘feel.’

In other words, there is a certain logic to how we got here. I respect that. But, also with respect, I have to side with our letter writers. Even if council had opted to restore the clubhouse, I might have more sympathy. This is a beautiful little heritage building with a hardwood ceiling and wood accents throughout. To demolish it for a single-use club needs a re-think.

Despite the process, times change, councils change, priorities change — and so should this decision.

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