City considers closing two parks

Arrowdale golf course and Earl Haig Family Fun Park are being assessed for possible closure

Earl Haig Family Fun Park, located in Brantford's Eagle Place.

The city of Brantford is proposing to close two parks to cut city expenses, which has raised concerns among residents. Earl Haig is a family water park located in Eagle Place. The community faces many challenges, including poverty and very little access to recreational space. Early Haig was created to prevent drownings in the Grand River. The park offers an affordable daily rate for the splash pad–children are $7 and adults are $9.75. The park has a plan to maintain the 90 per cent cost recovery rate for this upcoming year.

One of the major concerns with the potential loss of Arrowdale is the loss of green space. Both public golf courses in the city, North Ridge and Arrowdale, are in need of extensive repairs. The potential sale of Arrowdale would generate the funds required to repair North Ridge. North Ridge has an overall higher use than Arrowdale but still has the capacity to absorb the extra golfers. If council decides to terminate these parks, it will not be until 2017.

I spoke to some of the key people involved in the decision for their feedback. The following interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.

Sandy Jackson is responsible for the management of recreation for the city of Brantford.

If both of the parks close, what impact will it have on the community?
I think the biggest challenge is that there will be one less recreational facility for children and families to access. Brantford doesn’t have a significant, overwhelming amount of recreation facilities, particularly in that end of town. The residents who live there are in a lower-income area and for them to lose a recreational facility would be really unfortunate.

If the city ever does close the parks, will there be compensation in other recreational programming?
That is something council would have to decide. At last night’s meeting, after all of the people spoke last night, I got the impression that council is leaning towards keeping it open now. It all depends on how Saturday and their vote goes. If they do close it, I hope that they would replace it with other recreational facilities.

Do you see a way to maintain the 90 per cent recovery rate?
The challenge is if the weather is bad next summer, we could end up with a 75 per cent recovery. It all depends on good weather and on marketing. We had good social media success last year that brought in quite of bit of tourists to the park.

Would other parks be affected?
The only other outdoor pool is Woodland. It probably wouldn’t get a significant amount of initial traffic; it would get some. I think people would go out of town to find a water park experience instead, like Hamilton or somewhere else they can find that is more entertaining than just a rectangle. University and college students are typically the employees and some high school students. There wouldn’t be any full-time positions lost because those employees would be utilized at the other pools.

Why has this proposal come up?
Well, this year is the first year that council has had a budget taskforce. They met up with city councillors and their job was to come up with ways to decrease the city’s net operating cost; our costs are continuing to go up. The budget taskforce was doing their job by finding ways to save money. They thought the land would be good to sell to make money back to put into the city other ways.

Has Earl Haig ever considered corporate sponsors?
We had at one point in time, but it has been a while since we have gone that route. It is difficult to get corporate sponsorship for municipally owned operations because people have a harder time with it when it’s tax based.

Jeff Moore is the manager of golf operations for Brantford.

Do you see any way to bring in money into Arrowdale?
It needs more play. The rounds of golf have been steadily declining. It needs more support from food and beverage.

Would there be impact on North Ridge?
Last year we had 36,000 rounds of golf played. Capacity for an 18-hole is around 50,000 rounds, so there is room to accommodate.

Why close it now?
We had building assessments done for both facilities, and Arrowdale requires $135,000 worth of work over 10 years, North Ridge requires $1.3 million. Golf has to pay for its own capital requirements. In 2013, the weather was horrendous, which impacted golf courses everywhere.

George Dwroak is Brantford’s general manager of community services.

What is your role with the possible park closure?
The golf and recreation are two separate departments that report to me. When council decided that they wanted to investigate, the people in my group were responsible for preparing the background info, presentations, getting everything prepared for the public consultation.

Would there be impacts on other parks and the community?
We believe that the golfers could be accommodated at North Ridge. We would try to provide a fee structure to accommodate those golfers. Now they are paying a nine-hole fee that they don’t have at North Ridge. If we sell the property, it would be for residential development. There is a concern over green space removed. There is a school there, and we often have school-park combinations.

Would the city compensate for the closure of these parks and programming?
With Earl Haig, there would be opportunity to provide other recreational facilities. One thing that was discussed was replacing the facilities at Arrowdale with the construction of splash pads in a couple of areas.

What would happen if the parks remained open?
We would continue along with what we are doing. Both facilities would stay open in 2016; they would close in 2017 if they were going to close them. The only thing we would have to do different would be to come up with a new capital budget.