ABOVE THE PLAZA – Part One of The Weather Catcher Series
By SHELLEY TERMUENDE, Connect Contributor
The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB) recently commissioned the large architecture piece, known as the Weather Catcher, as part of the downtown revitalization efforts.
Approved in 2012 with a budget of $2.4 million dollars, the Weather Catcher (in conjunction with the Jubilee Plaza upgrade project, which was approved for a $15 million dollar budget) has had mixed reviews from the public.
While the structure was erected to trigger discussion, concerns about the safety of the Weather Catcher, as well as, the price tag continue to spark debate over the city’s use of funds and the forethought councilors have in approving such expenses.
In addition to this, some community groups believe the city council is not designating funds to the region’s core needs. Bob Couture, the Executive Director of Community and Protective Services for the RMWB says it is all about creating a balance.
“We have created that central attraction point in our downtown core that has become a hub for social and family activity,” said Bob Couture.
“We have created that central attraction point in our downtown core that has become a hub for social and family activity.”
From what he has seen and heard, Couture says the overall response regarding the plaza and Weather Catcher has been very positive.
To Councillor Keith McGrath, the Weather Catcher is anything, but a representation of Fort McMurray.
“It is a waste of public funding. I am a lover of art, but I would rather put money in to students and local artists with made in McMurray solutions. I really to this day do not know what value is added by the Weather Catcher. ”
He feels as though the lack of oversight left previous councillors with too many unknowns, leading to a poorly planned and executed end product.
McGrath is not alone in his critiques. Fort McMurray resident Diane Slater says the Weather Catcher is the symptom of a bigger problem in the community.
“We as taxpayers can no longer overlook the waste in management and operation of government programs and projects, because we haven’t stopped paying yet,” said Diane Slater.
“We as taxpayers can no longer overlook the waste in management and operation of government programs and projects, because we haven’t stopped paying yet.”
Slater has been actively involved in RMWB fighting for infrastructure upgrades for recurring home damage caused by flooding in Fort McMurray and has criticized council for misusing tax payer funds.
She argues that providing council with a lump sum amount rather than breaking down the individual components of Jubilee Plaza hindered the council’s ability to make a sound decision on the Weather Catcher component. Diane suggests that a more transparent discussion is needed regarding the community and region’s core needs before undertaking aesthetic projects.
Adam Nicklin and his partner Marc Ryan of Public Works, the company contracted to rejuvenate the Jubilee Plaza explained that in the initial Request for Proposals (RFP), the Weather Catcher was not an item yet, as the structure came to fruition in a later development stage of the project.
“The initial RFP did not ask for specifics. Basically, we were asked to explain what would make the space the most engaging,” Nicklin said. “That is a typical process in an RFP… you describe the aspirations, not the individual items,” he added.
Nicklin wanted to underline that the overall budget did not change with the addition of the Weather Catcher.
“Everything had to fit within the preapproved budget.”
Public Works’ inspiration was the shifts in season and said the Weather Catcher was meant to be a reflection of the northern community and uniqueness of both the landscape and weather from long hot summer days to ice and snow in the winter.
Former councillor and former MLA Mike Allen argues the community has not seen the Weather Catcher through a full range of seasons yet, and encourages residents to wait and see what it will do.
“From my perspective, it seems to be a large structure that does not really do anything all day. That said, we have to make the best of it and I am willing to give it a chance.”
Allen also stated there is no reason for the councillors to have been privy to every individual item, including the individual cost of the Weather Catcher, when approving the budget for Jubilee Plaza’s upgrades.
“A council does not approve every individual item. They have the opportunity to approve or deny an overall budget and have no right to micromanage administration. It is their duty to ask the right questions,” Mike Allen said.
“A council does not approve every individual item. They have the opportunity to approve or deny an overall budget and have no right to micromanage administration. It is their duty to ask the right questions,” Allen said.
Councillor Colleen Tatum believes had the council known what it cost for what the Weather Catcher actually does, she doesn’t think that they would have approved it. Tatum, however, agrees Jubilee Plaza does create a space for the community to enjoy without having to pay for an activity, and believes connections made here will make the space valuable to Fort McMurray.
Bob Couture says that administration’s job is to follow through on the vision and direction given to them by council. He argues that so much of the discussions about the Weather Catcher have been negative, it is time for something positive to come out of the Jubilee Plaza.
“Money has been spent on these things and we really want people to come down and use the space. The council made the decision to have these things here, and now administration is supporting it and using it.”
This is Part One of the “Above the Plaza: Weather Catcher Series” to be continued in the upcoming issues of Connect Weekly.
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