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Reimagining Brewer Park: It’s Time

Originally published in the March 2017 OSCAR.

Back in the mid-1920s, Thomas H. Brewer, a former Capital Ward councillor, devoted a great deal of effort to having a large area of vacant land in the south-west section of Old Ottawa South levelled and cleaned up to be used as a city playground. Today this area bears his name and is known as Brewer Park.

Consisting of a six-lane pool, a skating arena, a children’s playground, a number of sports fields for soccer and baseball, a basketball court, and (in winter time) an outdoor ice oval and two hockey rinks, as well as a building currently occupied by the Westboro Academy. The park since those early days has proven to be very popular with Old Ottawa South residents and the community at large.

But over time, it has begun to show its age. This is especially true with the park’s aging arena at a time when there is a decreasing popularity of smaller, older urban arenas, and a potential shift away from such costly (to repair) single rinks in favour of multi-pad suburban rinks.

Capital Ward Councillor David Chernushenko sees a future scenario in which Brewer Park and its facilities are substantially redesigned to make better use of the space, by consolidating roads and parking to create more space for fields, arena(s), a pool and even a gym. To consider these possibilities he is holding a public meeting on March 23 to discuss the park's future under the theme “Brewer Park Reimagined.”

The OSCAR recently met with Chernushenko to learn more about the reason for the public meeting and what he hopes to achieve from the meeting.

(The following interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.)

Why are you holding this meeting?

I suppose I should just sit back and say what is it that we are doing? Why are we even touching this? Most of the park is fine and most likely will see minor tweaks. What to me isn’t fine and obvious to a lot of people are particularly the long standing built structures.

The arena frequently gets voted one of the least favourite arenas, and is the absolutely coldest with crammed dressing rooms and with the fewest amenities for parents who are standing around. The more modern arenas that are offering so much more kind of stand out, in comparison to the Brewer arena.

Plus its simple age, we are putting band-aids on top of band-aids each year or two with another repair to the refrigerated system, a repair to the fans, or the roof needs patching. You reach a point where you think is that really another $100,000 or a $300,000 that we want to keep band-aiding onto a building, when we know that its years are numbered.

The pool is still doing okay but it’s aging similarly. As for the building currently occupied by the Westboro Academy, their lease is coming up and they have asked a few years ago to renew it and to expand. They have been good tenants and it was a great stopgap for both them and the city, while there was no other use for this building. But it is an oddity to have a private school in a city park, as well an expansion would mean giving them permission to expand on a floodplain.

So all-in-all this means that these three buildings are coming very due to their end of life?

So in the long run what’s future for these buildings?

Could they be renovated or retrofit? Maybe one or two of them but it seems to me what makes more sense is to look at maybe a clean slate, to start over and say whatever built structures need to be on the site, why don’t we cluster them better, why don’t we put them all into one building at the best possible location that’s easy access from Bronson?

If we step back and look at how it is used, and this is critical, you can blue sky and say the councillor loves this idea, or we heard from neighbours who love that idea. We have to look at a few things, and one is what is physically possible.

Most of the park is still in the floodplain. A good chunk of the park is still contaminated with soil from former landfills. Once you start digging you have to spend a lot of money and dig for a long time. So maybe it’s better not to start digging in the first place is one way of looking at it.

There are also the demographics and the use to consider. What we know is the pool is still generally very well used. But it’s got limitations for what it can be used for because of its size and lack of other amenities.

The arena though - like many arenas - and this is a big surprise for me to learn a couple of weeks ago from our staff, is that arena bookings have been steadily declining across the city for a couple of decades now. Actually hockey registration has been steadily declining, and even girls and women’s hockey hasn’t pulled up the slack.

So people, who have the choice, are booking the nicest newest arenas, and the downtown smaller older ones are getting the fewest bookings. The city is undergoing a study that will come to committee in a month or two time where they will essentially be recommending to council whether we keep or don’t keep certain arenas open, or whether we maybe consolidate them. So we have to keep that in mind as well.

What about the rest of park?

Field use continues to be fairly steady between soccer and touch football and a range of other activities. In winter the ice oval is another big question mark. It’s absolutely loved by speed skaters and by local residents. But it takes a phenomenal amount of volunteers’ work to make it the calibre that’s needed to truly speed skate.

Each year or two I have chats with the speed skating clubs, and they say their volunteers are stressed and overworked. But the city can’t find money to say fine we will pay people to do that work. 

However those who are passionate about the oval just can’t imagine the thought that it might not be there. So we really do have to give some serious thought to that, with a very changing and unpredictable climate, could a refrigerated facility solve this, what would that cost, is it feasible at all and what might the trade-off be?

With a refrigerated oval you are talking about poured concrete that stays concrete all year round. So it would actually result in loss of field space. So that’s a big question.

The play structures, the southern end of the park towards the river, I think that’s where you would see really minor changes, maybe slight upgrading of pathways. But generally our sense is, and my finger on the pulse of all these years living here, and the people that communicate with me is that there is not a whole lot of complaints about that. But these are very minor things compared to the big future of the park. 

We will also have to see what’s best for consolidating parking so we don’t have three or four different parking sites throughout the park. So we don’t have this oddity of protecting residences from cut through traffic with chains, one way signs and no entries that half the time people ignore, or are lost and go through anyway.

I think that we can use the space at Brewer Park more efficiently and end up getting more recreational facility out of it, with less driving around the park trying to find a spot where you you're allowed to park, and a much safer entrance. The Bronson one is one heck of a scary entrance.

What kind of feedback are you looking for at the meeting?

This is an opportunity to reimagine what’s best for the park in the long run.

The city knows that these facilities are going to need either a replacement, or be closed and no longer deserve to have money spend on their repairs. But to be frank, there is no pot of cash to assign to this at this moment in these difficult budgetary times.

This would be something where I think settling on a plan that makes sense for the park in five to 10 years from now, and would allow us then to deal with decisions about the existing facilities. If there is a catastrophic failure of an ice-making system, or a filtration system, or something like that, we would be able to make a decision as to whether or not it’s worth spending the money into repairing them.

Let’s begin to budget for the longer-term. The earlier we start planning, and get some people excited about it the better. So I suppose that’s the big background for it.

I think at this point the best we can hope for, since we can’t give people a whole lot of tangible specific ideas, is what do you love about the park, and what don’t you like about the park. 

What I like to do is to give them essentially a list of things that the city believes could be possible for the park. What’s specifically possible that doesn’t come with an outrageous price tag that would be immediately dismissed, and that the demographics and trends show there would be a user for.

I would like to hear from people, alright if you have got to choose and rank from these things? What would you want to have most at the park? And possibly some of the values associated with them. At this point, it is a city expectation that in an approximate number of years time frame, Brewer Park is going to evolve and so what would you most like to have happen?

What are your thoughts on the idea of preserving a neighbourhood scale arena versus a shift to a multi-pad urban rink?

That to me is absolutely critical from the outset when we talk about those values. Does being a hockey parent by definition mean that you’ve got to drive everywhere, all the time, or is there such a thing as a home arena in an urban neighbourhood where there is actually a home game and a home practice and where some of the kids can wheel their bags to the arena. Or hop on the bus with their gear.

The cliché of the parent with the minivan may be necessary in some parts of the town, and for everybody for some games and practices but does it always have to be that way.

Is the day of the standalone single arena gone the way of the dodo bird because there is efficiencies in two ice pads, a pro shop, a physiotherapist, a cafeteria, etc. in the big suburban more spacious location?

Maybe that is far more efficient but life isn’t just about efficiency. Small schools, small theatres, neighbourhood scale Firehall type community centres are extremely important to those communities and it’s not just because you could do it more efficiently, and then force everyone to drive all the time that we necessarily want to go that way.

So that’s a big discussion to be had and I think it’s one that gets right to certain values to about walkable neighbourhoods. I know whole teams with hockey equipment isn’t necessarily walkable. I’m not just talking about the hockey, but also about swimming, soccer fields, baseball and other park activities. That’s what I’m hoping to tease out at the meeting, and not to walk out with the declaration that there will be a hockey arena at all costs, or something else such as a gym, as we are at too early of a stage to make that kind of decision.

Brewer Park Pool ek

Brewer Park Reimagined Public Meeting

All are welcome to a public meeting to provide feedback and suggestions on the future of Brewer Park.

 

Thursday, March 23, 2017, 7:00pm at Southminster United Church, 15 Aylmer Ave.

 

For further information about the meeting visit: www.capitalward.ca or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to be added to the mailing list.