‘Better luck next time’ was the message city council delivered Tuesday to volunteers wanting to revitalize Weaver Park in the heart of Port Alberni’s downtown core.
Brenda Patterson and Alita Johnson, who have spearheaded a grassroots committee of residents wanting to see a new playground and better use of Weaver Park (on the corner of Fifth Avenue and Montrose), appeared before city council requesting some financial assistance with their project. The park is owned by the city and managed under the parks and recreation department, but they are working on the project with department head Scott Kenny’s co-operation.
In September the group unexpectedly won a $35,000 matching grant from Let Them Be Kids, a non-profit organization that assists community groups to pay for park playgrounds. The only catch is they have to have the money spent and the park built by Dec. 31 or they lose the grant.
The city is also requiring the group to put down more expensive rubber matting instead of wood chips as the play structure’s ground cover, to conform to similar structures at Harbour Quay and Klitsa ball fields.
That has put tremendous pressure on the volunteers to raise more than $35,000 in weeks instead of the months they anticipated, Patterson said.
Kenny had already told the group in the summer that there is no money in his budget to make improvements to the park, but they were welcome to do their own fundraising. The deadline they have been given is unreasonable, he said, and they have been forced to do some aggressive fundraising as a result.
In addition to the Let Them Be Kids funding, the group also won a $1,000 grant from Shaw Cable and have applied for several more, including the Aviva Community Fund, a Coastal Community Credit Union grant, Safeway and Starbucks. However, they won’t find out until the end of the year whether they qualify for some of the grants, Patterson said.
They have also approached local service clubs as well as the Port Alberni Toy Run and are waiting to hear back from some of these groups, she added.
Council denied a grant-in-aid request as the process has changed and applications for the new community investment program won’t be taken until January 2012.
Coun. Cindy Solda said there are other parks that need upgrades too and the parks and rec department should prioritize fairly.
Coun. Kenn Whiteman thanked committee members for their efforts. “We can make it happen, but it might take longer than you hoped,” he said.
Coun. Hira Chopra said the city cannot help the group. “Our budget is done and there’s no way we could write you a cheque for $20,000,” he said. “Don’t give up; apply next year for those grants. Keep up the good work, but you have to wait until next year.”
The Kinsmen have donated $1,000 to the Weaver Park fund, the Kinettes donated $500 and LA Marine handed over a cheque for $200, Patterson said.
For more information or for people wishing to make private donations, please go online to www.portalberni.ltbk.ca. Volunteers are also needed for the build day on Saturday, Nov. 12.
Read an editorial about the story here.