New building key to VIEX survival

Nanaimo will consider new agricultural complex when it embarks on Beban Park Master Plan update in January.

A new agricultural complex to replace aging barns at Beban Park could be part of a revisioning process for the 51-hectare recreational property.

In January, the city will embark on a master plan update for Beban Park to reassess community needs, with a June target for completion.

The last plan for the park was developed in 1997. Since then the lawn bowling greens, an off-leash dog park, Merle Logan Field, and the pitch-and putt golf course were added, among other features.

To ensure its survival and promote the importance of agriculture in the community, the Vancouver Island Exhibition also hopes to add a $1.8-million building dedicated to housing agricultural related activities. The building would replace four aging barns built in the 1960s that are almost at the end of their functional lives.

Lynn Haley, president of the VIEX board, said concentrating agricultural activities under one roof important in keeping the community engaged with its agricultural roots.

“The theme of agriculture in this city is very important and we need to keep it alive and well,” said Haley. “Most kids nowadays think their food comes from a grocery store without realizing the impact a farming community has. We need to keep that alive and I think Nanaimo still has a big agricultural flair to it and we need to keep building on it.”

Haley added that several clubs, programs and events such as the Nanaimo Equestrian Club, Nanaimo Kennel Club, Cedar 4-H Club, the Pumpkin Festival, and Bowen Road Farmers’ Market would keep the building utilized year round, as well as anchor many events for the annual fair that draws thousands of people to the grounds.

On Monday, VIEX’s board approached council, asking for a letter of intent so it could approach other level of government for grant money. Since it leases the property from the city, it can’t approach senior governments for funding without council’s guarantee of support.

It was told to wait until the Beban Park Master Plan could be initiated, but council was positive.

“I’m sure this wonderful project will be part of the re-evaluation for redevelopment,” said Coun. Diana Johnstone, who is also the chairwoman for the Parks, Recreation and Culture Commission. “It will be foremost in our thoughts.”

Johnstone added that food security continues to be an important issue, and noted that the Regional District of Nanaimo has an agriculture strategy underway, further confirming a general return to agricultural roots.

Haley said exhibition would be responsible for spearheading the fundraising aspect, but the board is also asking the city to contribute $300,000. Without the city’s letter of intent, she said other sources of funding would be pursued in the meantime.

The proposed pre-fabricated and removable building would be heated, have movable pens to house a variety of animals, and be capable of offering space for agricultural education and programs. It could also be home to an agriculture museum, and would be called upon to provide space for animals in the event of a disaster.

Coun. Ted Greves said he supports the idea, but believes the building could be improved to further serve the community.

“I’m not a big supporter of temporary buildings,” said Greves, a former member of Nanaimo’s fire department. “I’d want to se a better building that could be used by all groups.”

Annual operational costs are estimated a $22,000.

The VIEX has been located at Beban Park since 1953 and Haley said she hopes it stays there for decades to come.

“But if we don’t get a building I don’t see the fair surviving in the long-term,” she said.

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