Town administration mum on changes to community buildings

A slow and methodical change is occurring at Ponoka Town Hall regarding use of its community buildings.

A slow and methodical change has been occurring behind the scenes at Ponoka Town Hall and while the reasons behind it seem reasonable, the way it’s being done does not seem to be totally transparent.

The first indication of changes to the town’s modus operandi appears to have come in November, when Wes Amendt, director of community services, approached Bob Hepp of Bob Hepp and Company Catering regarding the company’s lease at the Kinsmen Community Centre (KCC).

After 14 years at that location, Hepp was told his company was being put on a month-to-month lease. It is believed it was in February that the town approached Hepp and told him the company’s presence there was no longer a good fit for the town’s plans. Hepp told the town he would need until Dec. 31 to honour prior commitments.

Hepp wasn’t the only party the town spoke to regarding their lease. In November, the Ponoka and District Chamber of Commerce received notice that its lease of the town’s Visitors Information Centre (VIC) would end Aug. 31, 2015.

Les Jaster, executive manager for the chamber approached the town last April as the lease was about to expire.

At the time there was still no CAO and Jaster said administration requested that the chamber wait until a CAO could be hired. He said at the time the possibility of a different way of using  the space at the centre was indeed raised..

Requests to both the town and the chamber for copies of correspondence between the two entities were declined.

An email request to the town for information on its plans for both the KCC and the VIC resulted in answers related only to the VIC.

“This is a great building in a great location and will remain a Visitor Centre,” explained Brinkworth in an email.

When further asked about the Kinsmen Centre, Brinkworth replied that nothing has changed with regard to the town’s plans for it.

Other options for the chamber

The chamber is now looking at some potential spaces, explained chamber president Jim Hamilton. “I’m disappointed because I believe the chamber should be in the centre,” he said.

Referring to town’s justification for the change that the chamber offices were not always staffed, Hamilton added if the town does have staff in the VIC during regular hours, he would be happy. “We’ll find a new place. It was never guaranteed forever. If they need the new space, then hopefully the town is growing and utilizing the space well.”

As part of the ongoing changes, the town is reported to have asked for a fee for this week’s election forum among the candidates to be held at the Kinsmen Community Centre unlike in the previous occasions when no charges were mentioned.

Brinkworth said the town must treat everyone equally and with no favouritism. “This is particularly true for events of a political nature,” she said.

The debate will now be held at the Stagecoach Saloon.

Earlier this year the Ponoka Legion also received communications from the town regarding its building.

It is unknown if the request was to purchase or to trade the property as the documents were not released, but Mayor Rick Bonnett did confirm the town has been approaching different associations and the Legion was one of several.

Mayor clear about council’s plans

While administration appeared reluctant to be informative regarding its goals, Bonnett had no issue speaking with Ponoka News on council’s direction to administration and with the VIC.

“With the visitor centre, the reason why we needed to do something there was because we need some more space,” explained Bonnett.

“It’s either that or renovate Town Hall and I really don’t want to sink much more money in Town Hall until we know what we’re doing,” he added.

The goal is to have the VIC open as much as possible and with town staff there, it will remain that way, according to the mayor. Bonnett said with Jaster being the only person in the building, it can be a challenge keeping it open every day. “You can’t expect him to be there all day long.”

Bonnett’s goal is to keep an open dialogue with community groups and he welcomes discussion from the Legion, or any other group. “We’ll put everything on the table,” he stressed.

With regard to the aging Town Hall, Bonnett said his recommendation to administration for a new one should include a multi-use facility in those plans. He feels residents would agree to that if it benefits residents and town staff.

He suggests sinking money into infrastructure without a proper goal for the future may not be a good idea, referring to the Hudson Green Nature and Activity Centre approved by previous council.

“We already had a hall that wasn’t getting used enough and that’s the mistake that I don’t want to make again,” stated Bonnett.

Hepp’s plans to retire changed in February after the Legion approached him to be their in-house caterer; Hepp and the Legion are working on ratifying an agreement.

During budget deliberations in December, $126,000 was set aside for improvements at the Kinsmen Centre but council requested a building plan be conducted to see if that money should be spent.