A revitalization project that will give Harewood residents a new recreational destination will also see the community lose part of its agricultural heritage.
In 2010, the city hosted an improvement planning process for Harewood Centennial Park in an effort to improve the tennis, lacrosse and basketball facilities and determine what the community desired to draw more people to the location. The public responded by requesting an expanded playground and water park, improving the trails system lighting, and washrooms, and installing some public art.
While all of those requests will bet met over the next several months at a cost of about $600,000 – some existing facilities won’t receive renovations until 2015 – the plan also requires the demolition of the historical Dickinson Barn, an aging south end building that symbolizes the community’s agricultural roots.
Built in 1910, the barn originally served as one of the area’s largest dairy farms, supplying Harewood residents with milk, butter and cheese. It was denied heritage status a few years ago because of its state of disrepair.
Preparations began earlier this week to tear the barn down, which will provide another six useable acres slated for a playground, improved access to the park from Howard Street and a drop-off area.
Jeff Ritchie, Nanaimo’s senior manager for parks and civic facilities, said the focus of the upgrades will remain on the park’s recreational needs, but a nod will be given to the past as part of the project.
“We recognize the historical aspect of the barn but it’s been used as the city’s works yard for storage for the last 40 years,” said Ritchie. “It’s not really even safe anymore. There will be a new trail system through there with interpretive signage to recognize some of that history, we’re not casting it aside. We appreciate the historical significance but the structure is way past its time.”
Christine Meutzner, manager at the Nanaimo Community Archives, said it’s unfortunate the barn has to be destroyed, but it opens up an opportunity to educate people on the community once known as Five Acres.
“I’m sorry to see it go because I do feel it is part of the community’s agricultural heritage, but it doesn’t look like parks and rec has been able to find a way to incorporate the barn into the new park plan,” she said. “I’m hoping they take the opportunity to do some really first-class heritage interpretation.”
Meutzner said the archives has recently received some photographs of the original farmstead that she hopes will be used as part of the interpretative signage.
The first phase of the project is expected to be complete later this year, with crews working around times of heavy usage for the existing facilities like the playground, tennis and basketball courts, all of which will be resurfaced and possibly relocated to fit in the general plan.
As money becomes available in future budgets, 2014 will likely see the creation of a community gathering place and a youth park that could include features like a skate park or mountain bike park.
In 2015, the plan calls for the addition of a multi-purpose covered court and a new lacrosse/multi-sport box, the development of a fitness trail and outdoor exercise area, and the reconfiguration of Sherry Fields.