In soccer field tussle, memo to school board is resounding no
BY VOICE STAFF
At its last meeting, Town Council voted unanimously not to engage in further discussion with the District School Board of Niagara over the Board’s request to acquire a portion of Cherry Ridge Park, situated next to the former E. W. Farr Public School in Fenwick, now undergoing renovation to re-open as the controversially renamed Wellington Heights school.
Having witnessed a formidable amount of opposition, not only from residents of the Cherry Ridge neighbourhood but also throughout the entire town, and taking into consideration concerns raised by Town staff, Council decided that the wiser course was to effectively rip-up the memorandum of understanding it quietly reached with the DSBN last summer.
“Last meeting, or the meeting before, we received a petition from pretty much every household,” said Mayor Augustyn.
“We listened, and we heard, and the petition was a clear ‘No.’”
Councillor Gary Accursi took a tour and didn’t like what he saw.
“When I went out there and looked at the park and the implications for it, I think taking a soccer field out of part of that park would personally destroy the park and really lower its usability,” he said.
“Quite frankly, just around the corner we have wonderful soccer pitches that had been developed in Centennial Park and have easy access from the school.”
Accursi suggested to the Mayor that the Town consider approaching the DSBN to keep the lines of communication open, and to offer them the Pelham’s municipal bus to transport students to the nearby pitches. This will save the DSBN money, he said, which will in turn save taxpayers money. Sharing the bus in this way would also increase the ridership, which Accursi asserted would help qualify the municipality for additional funding.
Councillor Marvin Junkin acknowledged that the people had spoken loud and clear.
“We had a couple of meetings on this with the citizenry and they let us know on certain terms how they felt,” he said.
“Again, when you go and take a look at the property, I don’t think the Town is depriving the children of any play time. They definitely have enough land of their own, and with a little bit of landscaping they will have their own soccer field.”
During the time he has spent on Council, Junkin said this is one of the few requests from community partners that they have decided to turn down. The majority of the time, he said, Council receives reasonable requests, which Council discusses and usually chooses to support over and above what was originally requested.
“This is part of what makes us such a great community,” said Junkin.
“But this particular request, from this particular organization — the DSBN — I think it had a lot of weak points.”
Echoing Junkin, the Mayor said that Council looks at opportunities presented with an open mind.”
Augustyn reminded Council this wasn’t the first time the Town walked away from a memorandum of understanding, recalling a proposed operating deal with the YMCA for the new Community Centre.
Council’s decision inspired a round of applause from the gallery. Ed Doucette was one of the many Cherry Ridge residents pleased to see the DSBN’s proposal turned down.
“Everyone is happy,” said Doucette.
“For me, it was never about the kids or not wanting them to play soccer or even the ‘not in my backyard’ thing. You just don’t give away land. I’ve always been told that it’s wise to hang on to real estate and hang on to gold. You don’t give those things away. I am not even sure why it was entertained to start with.”
Doucette said he was disappointed with the DSBN’s communication with the community.
“They didn’t do very much, and if they did, they didn’t share that with us,” he said.
“It appears to me that they just stuck their hand out and asked for something. There were many other alternatives, rather than taking someone else’s land.”