Those lobbying for improved amenities are welcoming the results of Saturday’s referendum.
Out of 8,220 votes, 4,303 Greater Vernon residents agreed to borrow up to $7.5 million to construct a running track and sports fields at Okanagan College. There were 3,917 no votes.
“I’m absolutely elated. I was pretty optimistic,” said Bill Tarr, chairperson of the steering committee that promoted the concept to voters.
“We did a good job of getting people the information they wanted and we listened to what people needed.”
The primary reasons put forward for the facility were meeting the needs of track and football clubs because of the present lack of adequate facilities, and allowing Greater Vernon to host major events.
“I am thrilled people see the positive vision and how this will improve the community,” said Tarr.
However, many residents expressed concerns about the proposal, including whether another site should have been considered and if a sports facility was needed during economically challenging times.
“It was a long process and there was a healthy debate in the community,” said Patrick Nicol, Regional District of North Okanagan chairperson.
“There was a lot of enthusiasm on both sides of the issue.”
Nicol personally supported the facility and he believes it will benefit future generations.
“It’s a beautiful site, we access the land at a terrific rate ($1 a year) and there is some synergy with the college,” he said.
A strong advocate has been Jim Garlick, mayor of Coldstream, where the site is located.
“There’s a broad number of users and benefits from this. A majority of people saw that it made sense,” said Garlick.
Along with those presently involved in preparing for the referendum, Garlick says two individuals need to be acknowledged.
“Herman Halvorson (former RDNO chairperson) did a lot of good stuff for us to get it to the ALC and John Lent (former Okanagan College dean) had a real vision and wanted the college to be more of a part of the community,” said Garlick, who also credits ALC chairperson Richard Bullock for ensuring the land is available.
With a total of about 45,000 eligible voters in Greater Vernon, turnout was about 18 per cent Saturday.
“I’m really shocked at the low voter turnout because of the strong showing at the advanced polls,” said Tarr.
However, Nicol isn’t disappointed.
“It’s a healthy sample of the size of the community. It’s a lot of people taking time out of their day to be involved in the community,” he said.
It’s anticipated that facility construction could begin this fall.
“The next step is detailed design and then tendering,” said Tannis Nelson, Regional District of North Okanagan community development co-ordinator.
The project must be completed by November 2014 as a condition of the Agricultural Land Commission agreeing to a non-farm use on the property which is in the Agricultural Land Reserve.
“Our deadline is realistic,” said Nelson.
Timelines are also set out in the lease agreement with Okanagan College, but Garlick expects there won’t be any stumbling blocks, even if work has to proceed past November 2014.
“Everyone will be reasonable. The college will be and the ALC will be,” he said.