Fast and Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

Court Sports

I had a very informative conversation yesterday with Greg Callaghan, a member of the Basketball Cape Breton (BCB) board, who was dismayed to see the Spectator framing the campaign for a new central library as a competition against the campaign for a new community court sports facility.

We talked for about an hour but I would boil the conversation down to three salient points:


Centre 200 was not their idea

Callaghan said while BCB has been advocating for a two-court facility in CBRM for a number of years, the idea of attaching a 47,800 square-foot sports complex to Centre 200 was not theirs — in fact, they have yet to be consulted about it.

BCB’s idea, which it presented to council with the Cape Breton Gymnastics Academy in 2018, was that CBRM repurpose the Centennial Arena into a two-court facility, undertake repairs to the adjacent Bicentennial Gym and turn the two — along with the adjacent baseball and soccer fields and Baille Ard Nature Trail — into a multi-sport complex. Nothing ever came of this proposal, Callaghan said. Later, BCB and Volleyball Cape Breton began to discuss the possibility of a standalone facility in the Open Hearth Park, but never presented this idea to council. (A group called “Tomorrow’s Legends” has launched a campaign to build such a facility, but Callaghan said they’re acting independently from BCB.)

Basktball Cape Breton homepage


Callaghan said he was watching the December council meeting during which District 6 Councilor Glenn Paruch asked for a staff issue paper on the possibility of building a two-court facility, “somewhere in the CBRM,” and that he was as surprised as anyone when the motion was amended to state that the “preferred” location for such a facility would be next to Centre 200.


Sports groups also want a library

Callaghan said he and his fellow board members completely support the library plan and hate to see the two projects (and groups of proponents) pitted against one another.

“Why can’t we have both?” he asked.

(The short answer, of course, is that even were the province and the feds to approve funding for both projects — which seems unlikely, given what Mayor Amanda McDougall has said about the preference for a sports complex — it’s hard to see how the CBRM could come up with its share of two major capital projects in the same year. But I take Callaghan’s point: a court facility serving the entire municipality and a new central library shouldn’t be an outlandishly extravagant ask for the second-largest municipality in the province.)


Schools aren’t really an option

Schools do have gyms but they are used first and foremost for school sports and Callaghan said that means it’s virtually impossible for community groups to book time on weekdays (gyms are generally available from 3:30 to 8:30 PM.)

Community groups can book weekend time but are required to pay for custodial and security services, and that means paying the over-time rates of employees, which is expensive for a non-profit group. He noted that the Department of Education has waived these fees since the pandemic hit and said that were this to continue, it would solve a lot of their problems, but he’s doubtful it will. (Callaghan did not say this but I will: if the Minister of Education wants to support court sports in CBRM, wouldn’t this be an obvious place to start?) BCB could raise its fees to cover the rental costs, but that would defeat the purpose of an organization that wants to make sports available to any kid who wants to play. (And lots of kids want to play, he says, from 500 to 600 each year, with some coming from as far away as Inverness and Port Hawkesbury.)

Callaghan also pointed out that the CBRM expects schools to provide venues for community court sports, but provides municipal ice surfaces, baseball diamonds, soccer fields and even a football field for community (and school) use. It’s a quirk of the recreation system I hadn’t thought about before, but it’s true — we don’t expect the schools to provide facilities for most community sports, why basketball and volleyball?

And he noted that the Halifax Regional Municipality boasts multiple community sports venues, including a $10 million facility announced last fall for the communities of Beechwood, Lakeside and Timberlea.


And so…

You can’t talk to Callaghan for an hour without seeing his point of view. (Try it, I dare you.) His group is not trying to pre-empt construction of a new central library for their own nefarious and frivolous purposes, it’s been working to get another facility a municipality this size should have.

But our conversation has left me more puzzled than ever about the evolution of this project — where, exactly, did the Centre 200 idea come from? — and I will continue to ask questions about it. However, I solemnly swear that even though I am confirmed bookworm who never played team sports and couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with a basketball, I will not question the good faith of the sports groups involved.

Nerd’s honor.


For the people

A team of Canadian students recently won the top prize in a competition I had, frankly, never heard of before, the Urban Land Institute/ Gerald D. Hines Student Competition.

The Urban Land Institute is a nonprofit research and education organization founded in 1936 to facilitate “an open exchange of ideas, information, and experience among industry leaders and policy makers dedicated to creating better places.” Hines was a real estate mogul and longtime ULI leader who endowed competition, described as an “ideas contest” that “provides graduate students the opportunity to devise a comprehensive design and development scheme for a large-scale site in an urban area.”

The winning team — the first non-American team to claim the top, $50,000 prize — was made up of Frances Grout-Brown and Leorah Klein, Ryerson University; Yanlin Zhou, York University; and Ruotian Tan and Chenyi Xu, University of Toronto. They were asked for a proposal to “create a thriving mixed-use, mixed-income area in the East Village neighborhood in downtown Kansas City, Missouri.”

Fusion sketch for ULI/Hines competition

Conceptual drawing from Fusion’s winning design. (Source: ULI)

And after that extended table-setting, we get to the important part — the thing about the winning proposal that appealed to the judges. As the U of T explained:

The Canadian team’s design, titled “Fusion,” was unique among the competition’s finalists in that it didn’t include any tourist infrastructure. Instead, the group chose to focus on building a lively pedestrian promenade for locals that was lined with mixed-income residences, office space, retail, and a 107,000-square-foot community centre with housing for seniors inside.

“One thing that distinguished our proposal from the other finalists is that we wanted to create a community for people who are actually living there, rather than attracting tourists or visitors to the site,” Tan said back in March.

The plan even features an interesting, small-scale agriculture component (this is Kansas, remember) that includes “a series of local gardens and green roofs” and a “vertical farming greenhouse that would make it possible for the neighborhood to produce some of its own food.”

I read about this shortly after I’d read Michelle Smith’s article about the library and I wondered if she hadn’t tapped into some sort of design world zeitgeist — maybe building “for people who are actually living there” is about to become the next big thing.


Dear Editor

The Spectator inbox can be a disconcerting place. This very morning, for example, it produced this:

What sort of letter ; can I type ..?

Can I criticize, everyone: & still get printed ? 2021
The other point , of using , some sort of news “paper “. If you get What I mean.

I am my own worst proof reader for Letters & etc . You need to hire , a better proof reader ,than you have , now .

You have my email , lets do a coffee .

I was trying to think how best to decline this invitation when I remembered Harold Pinter’s famous response to an invitation from Tom Stoppard, which kind of sums up how I feel about the prospect of having coffee with a stranger who wants to berate me for my (acknowledged) shortcomings as a proofreader:

Harold Pinter letter