Vancouver community centres face deadline to sign agreement with Park Board

Saturday is the deadline for 20 community centre associations to sign a new joint operating agreement with the Vancouver Park Board.

Negotiations between board and 20 associations more conciliatory than in past

Donnie Rosa, director of recreation for the Vancouver Park Board, has helped strike a more conciliatory tone with the city's community centre associations as the Park Board seeks to sign a new operating agreement with them. (Vancouver Park Board)

Saturday marked the deadline for 20 community centre associations to sign a new operating agreement with the Vancouver Park Board.

Although most community centres have not yet signed onto the new deal, the tone of negotiations between the two groups — which were essentially at war four years ago —  has become more civil.

"These are volunteers that have done thousands of hours of meetings and working through legal documents to try to fight for their neighbourhood," said Park Board Chair Michael Wiebe.

"And we recognize that and that's something the commissioners value and we're putting our own time to try to make sure we can make an agreement that works."

The Park Board owns the community centres, hires staff and has legal responsibility for them. The community centre associations run the programs, which are tailored to their communities. The Joint Operating Agreement (JOA) governs how the two groups manage this.

In the past four years, the relationship between the Park Board and the community associations has been strained because of a disagreement over a membership card and how associations spent money they raised.

In 2013, the Park Board cut ties with volunteer associations at six community centres after they filed a B.C. Supreme Court injunction to stop the implementation of the new OneCard system in their facilities.

The OneCard is a universal pass that can be used at all Park Board pools, rinks and fitness centres, and participating community centres across the city. Some community centres have their own membership schemes.

Another major disagreement between the Park Board and community centres was over the use of money the centres raised.

At the time, the Park Board wanted revenues funnelled back into Park Board programming, while many associations use money to support programs like little league baseball, food programs for schools or for seniors.

Unique spending

Wiebe says the Park Board recognizes the need for unique programming at the community centres and has added appendices to the current version of the agreement to allow centres to continue to offer these types of programs.

Fewer than a handful of associations have signed off on the agreement, while a majority of them have banded together, saying they won't sign until six specific concerns are addressed.

They include how revenue from the centres is spent, and the ability of the Park Board to terminate the agreement or evict an association from a centre.

'Inching there'

Meanwhile, leaders at associations say the two sides are getting close.

"I do think we're inching there and it's a process," said Sherry Breshears with the Hastings Community Association.

On Monday, Park Board Director Donnie Rosa will present a status report to commissioners about who has signed and who hasn't. A full report with recommendations on how to proceed is expected Oct. 23.

The public will be invited to speak on the process at that meeting. The new agreement would come into effect on Jan. 1, 2018.