by Deron Johnston
The culmination of two years of work on the part of the Oxford Mills Community Association [OMCA] may have been finally validated at last week’s Committee of the Whole meeting. North Grenville Municipal Council voted unanimously to approve the OMCA’s request to build a new gazebo on a specified site in Maplewood Park in Oxford Mills. It’s been two years since OMCA expressed their interest in seeing the gazebo replaced. The previous gazebo was torn down in 2015, due to its advanced state of deterioration, but had not been replaced by the Municipality.
Maplewood Park is a special gathering place and a source of pride for the community of Oxford Mills. The gazebo itself had been the site of many weddings, wedding photo sessions, and community events, and OMCA felt that it was important to see it replaced, and so offered to pay for the construction of a new gazebo, knowing it would become property of the Municipality of North Grenville.
What has occurred over the past two years has been a frustrating mix of confusion, lack of communication, and a series of conditions imposed on OMCA by the Municipality which could be considered either obstructive or necessary due diligence, or both, depending on your vantage point.
Last week, OMCA made a presentation to Council on the second version of gazebo drawings they had commissioned. This version of the plans had been approved by the Municipality’s Building Department, as one of the conditions OMCA was required to meet. Mark Guy (the Director of Parks, Recreation and Culture), then followed OMCA’s presentation and tabled a very positive report, supporting the request and recommending that Council vote to approve the build.
The report stated it is not recommended to reject the design and construction of the gazebo because “the Oxford Mills Community Association met all conditions set out to them for the gazebo project at Maplewood Park.” In addition, citing a link to the Community Strategic Plan, Mark Guy added: “the project is a perfect example of the Municipality working with community partners to address recreational needs”.
There was some discussion on the matter, mostly by Mayor Gordon and Deputy Mayor Tobin, on some extra wording that was contained in the gazebo drawings. The wording was obviously not intended to be specifically for the gazebo, but was, rather, general construction comments (or ‘cut and paste’ type of comments). It was explained to Council by local business owner Corey Lockwood, of Lockwood Brothers Construction, that, in his experience, this type of wording is common on drawings.
Although OMCA may get permission from Council to build, the project has the potential to still get tied up in conditions. Originally, Mark Guy wanted the gazebo to have 8′ of clearance, instead of the standard 6’6”, but, at that additional height, the builder will not be able to assemble the gazebo in advance and transport it to the site. Assembling the gazebo on site will cost significantly more. OMCA is trying to get an exception on that condition, but the matter has been referred to the building department. That department also wants a stone dust pathway and landing area from the parking lot to the ramp of the gazebo. Mark Guy also had concerns about enclosing the roof of the gazebo to avoid birds nesting. Ground anchors have been added to the conditions, so that the wind won’t be able to lift the structure. A railing for the ramp of the gazebo is another addition and, finally, due to the gazebo being built for weddings and photos, the gazebo has now been classified as an ‘A2 assembly occupancy’, which means that the drawings must be reviewed and stamped by an engineer or architect (the gazebo will not be nearly big enough to host an entire wedding in it). OMCA is currently using an architectural consultant for the work on the drawings. All of these conditions represent possible significant additional costs for OMCA. It was originally hoped that the new gazebo would be in place in time for Canada Day activities in Maplewood Park this summer. With the additional costs and conditions imposed, OMCA will now need the help of residents more than ever to help fundraise the money needed to complete the project. The original cost estimate was $10,000.
I have to say, this entire situation should never have reached this point, or taken this long. OMCA should never have been put in a position where they had to become general contractors for a project that should have been completed and paid for by the municipality itself (who did have this as a budget item in 2015, until it was dropped). How often has the Municipality seen a community group step forward like this, willing to spend thousands of dollars on something to beautify their community, that they would then just hand over to the Municipality? To my mind, this once again demonstrates a lack of leadership on the part of Council. Had a member of Council stepped forward and brought a motion to Council and championed this project, would we still be talking about it? Had council directed municipal staff to work cooperatively with OMCA to get the gazebo built, would the gazebo have already been in place last Canada Day? Would certain negative forces on Council have still tried to block this project, even if another member of Council did bring a motion of support forward?
On the bright side of all of this, maybe this ordeal will have helped to establish a path that will allow other community organizations to come forward with their own initiatives and work more efficiently with the Municipality. Do any of the hamlets need a new flagpole?