March 04, 2009

New park could be a boost for downtown

As published in The Erin Advocate

The Town Centre Park proposed for 109 Main Street will be an excellent addition to the atmosphere of downtown Erin, but it will need a strong commitment from the Town if it is going to happen this year.

A committee of councillors and community representatives has put a lot of work into the project. A design was published in The Advocate last month, and an optimistic goal of completion by July 1 was set.

How much weight will this project carry in the Town budget deliberations that are now in progress? The park could be a real jewel – an attractive and practical gathering place. I hope it ranks high on the list of new projects that Council is considering.

On one hand, Erin is running a small deficit and there are many needs in the community, from road paving to new dressing rooms at the Erin arena. The capital budget was $3.8 million in 2008, with 90 per cent of it allocated to Roads, Water and Fire Services.

On the other hand, we did get a provincial influx of $622,000 last year for new infrastructure, and it is about time we spent it. Apart from sports fields, we do not have much parkland, so a modest expenditure to create this new park could certainly be justified.

There has already been a lot of input from non-elected people, which is a sign of a healthy community, but there could still be a public meeting or at least a formal request for taxpayer feedback on the design. The estimated cost of this project should be made public.

Committee member Paul Rivers, who got involved through the Business Improvement Area, said the park will provide seniors and others a comfortable place to sit outdoors. "There are community events that are not being done because they need a venue," he said.

As Optimist Wilson Belford pointed out, the empty lot that was once the site of the village offices has become an "eyesore" for the area. The Optimists have pledged to construct the gazebo, which will be the focal point of the park.

The Town last year purchased $7,300 worth of steel for the structure, which the committee expects will be used as a stage for various musical and theatrical events. It will be surrounded by grass in the summer and a natural ice rink in the winter.

The Erin Garden Club has purchased $1,000 worth of stone for the rock garden that will provide an attractive entrance to the site, and plans to maintain the garden. A large spruce Christmas "Tree of Light" has also been donated.

More donations of building/landscape materials and cash are being requested, to help reduce the public cost. If you or your business are so inclined, call the Town office at 519-855-4407.

In the current plan, the gazebo has a central position, leaving almost equal "audience" areas on opposite sides of the performing stage. Since most performers will face mainly in one direction, it would be better to move the pavilion further from the road. This would allow a larger, primary audience area, perhaps with more stone seating.

Initially, the gazebo surface was to be 18 inches high, but now it is planned at ground level, to avoid the need for a ramp for the disabled. If you have 20 people sitting and watching a show, ground level is fine. But if you have 200 people, many of them standing or walking around, a raised stage would be much better, even if it is more trouble to build.

A winding, well-lit cobblestone-type path will extend to the parking lot at the back. That path could be part of a larger trail route, from the park, past Daniel Street and down to the West Credit River, where a foot bridge is being considered. It would link downtown to the Woolen Mills Conservation Area and nearby homes.