Many Bowness residents happy with park plan but plans for school building remains unclear
Land could be one of the most precious commodities in Calgary's continued growth. So when the city has 8.97 acres of land at its disposal, it becomes a hot-button issue for residents in the community.
The site of the former R.B. Bennett Elementary School in Bowness has remained empty and undeveloped since the city purchased the land in the spring of 2007. The property was purchased for $5.4 million with money from the Enmax Legacy Fund.
Project manager Colleen Roberts said the city looked at the impact of losing the school and determined the community needed open space.
"That was the reason it was purchased."
As part of the Enmax Legacy Fund, 2.7 acres of the property has been allocated for open space. The fund was created for land acquisition for future growth and to protect open space within the city. The cost of the surplus land, $3.7 million, will be reimbursed to the fund through development of the remaining 6.27 acres.
The public meeting held on Jan. 25 was the second phase in the revitalization plan for the site and gave community members the opportunity to see the proposed designs for the 2.7 acres of open space.
"The key when coming in to a community and an established neighbourhood is to have an effective public engagement group to get (the community's) input," Roberts said.
The designs were developed in part from suggestions gathered in the first phase from community groups such as Bowness Seniors and Bowness Boys and Girls Club, as well as from input from the first public meeting in September 2011.
Two designs were presented and both included:
• minor league soccer field
• 2 pre-existing playgrounds (1 to be relocated in the new design)
• senior workout area
• community garden
• pedestrian promenade
• picnic area
• pleasure skating rink (winter) / basketball court (summer)
• small toboggan hill / sports field spectator area
Annemieke Henri, a Bowness resident for the last 52 years, attended the public meeting on Wednesday because she said she deeply cares about her community.
"There is a sense of a very unique community," she said. "We don't call ourselves Calgarian but call ourselves Bownesian."
"The key when coming in to a community and an established neighbourhood is to have an effective public engagement group to get (the community's) input."
— Colleen Roberts, City of Calgary
Henri said she is pleased with the open-space designs, but finds it hard to grasp the whole concept.
"Because we don't know what they're doing with the school, we don't get the whole picture."
Anne Campbell, who has lived in the community for 48 years, shared Henri's desire to know the plans for the former school.
Campbell said the planners told residents they "were on it" at the September meeting, "but now we're in January and nothing."
She also suggests a need for more than the 2.7 acres of green space.
"We don't have any answers yet on the school," Roberts said. "We are still assessing it."
Roberts told the crowd she would commit to having an answer about the school within six months' time.
"No city department has expressed interest in the building," said Roberts, adding non-profit and service groups are being sought after for involvement in the building.
The plans for the school seemed to raise much concern for residents in attendance with questions about the state of the unused building and the potential for an unwanted strip mall. One resident went so far as to say she didn't want to see a Starbucks pop up at the site.
"What we are hearing from the community is to keep it public," said Roberts in response to the comment.
There will be more public meetings for the site revitalization with final decisions to be made on the open-space design, the surplus land development and the contentious school building.
For now though, Roberts said the public input has been great.
"It's been positive. We've talked to various groups and have tried to reach a broad spectrum of groups."
For more information on the revitalization project visit calgary.ca/rbbennett.
- By ALLISON CHORNEY