BEYOND THE HEADLINES: Concept lacks vision

City of Vernon's vision for museum won't hold up to the real and future needs

There doesn’t appear to be much creativity at Vernon city hall.

Council has unanimously endorsed a staff recommendation to expand the existing museum instead of constructing a purpose-built structure in the downtown core.

“Maintaining the museum in its current location and adding on to the building would serve to further anchor the area as a cultural centre,” states a staff report.

The report goes on to say that “expansion of the building at its present location means creating an additional 18,000 square feet to meet its desired 30,000 square feet.”

As a result, precious parking could be lost to the rear of the building, and given the always contentious issue of parking downtown, does that make sense? Also, staff suggests the footprint could be moved towards 32nd Avenue, eating into already limited open space.

The other question that arises is one of visual impact.

A larger box, possibly with higher walls, could diminish the park-like setting of the civic complex. Remember, $860,000 was spent in 2010 to create the urban oasis known as Spirit Square.

Nowhere in the staff report is there any discussion about the actual needs of the museum to preserve and promote the community’s heritage. Besides more exhibition space, room is required for an always growing collection of artifacts, as well as for programs that are highly in demand. Much like the art gallery, the museum could benefit from 16-foot ceilings if it wants to attract major travelling exhibits to town.

And then there is the matter of climate control, something that is absolutely critical for ensuring the integrity of artifacts, many of them aging and fragile.

At no point does the staff report indicate what expansion of the existing museum will cost. It would be interesting to know how that option compares to constructing a stand-alone building, which could possibly be upwards of $10 million.

Retrofits and expansion may be less but is that the best use of limited tax dollars?

Some people at city hall will point out that museum officials have previously suggested they could make do with an expanded structure. But those comments were a sign of desperation, a fear that they would never get anything.

During an interview Tuesday, museum president Ian Hawes expressed disappointment with council’s actions. That indicates that the museum’s wishes were either not understood or were ignored.

The argument can be made that the public already owns the museum site and that will save money. But the city holds title to many lots downtown, so why not one of them? Also, the city purchased property for the art gallery so why is the museum being treated differently?

There’s also another bureaucratic component to consider.

The Regional District of North Okanagan is responsible for culture and Vernon’s partners have been clear that there must be collective ownership of property used in the function. Is council ready to relinquish a chunk of land right next to city hall to ensure Coldstream and electoral area taxpayers fund the museum? If they are not, why is the current site in  the mix?

Now that Vernon council has recommended  a site, it will be up to the Greater Vernon Advisory Committee to determine the next steps for the museum.

Let’s hope that unlike their Vernon colleagues, the other members of GVAC will actually provide some vision and leadership.

Clearly, now is the time to think outside of the box.