By Tim Plumptre NECA President
The top issue on the agenda of the NECA Board of Directors today is the future of New Edinburgh House (NE House) at 255 MacKay St, the heart of NECTAR’s operations, and the possibility of integrating its activities and services with the Fieldhouse located in Stanley Park. NE House is the former manse of MacKay United Church and NECTAR is an incorporated, registered charitable organization that has its own Board of Directors.
NECTAR—the New Edinburgh Community and Arts Centre (nectarcentre.ca)—runs a wide range of recreational, artistic, social and cultural programs out of NE House and the adjoining Memorial Hall, owned by the MacKay United Church. Additionally, NE House is home to the Mainworks Artists Studios, a cooperative that has provided studio space to visual artists whose work has graced the halls of NE House and, in the early years, of the Corridor Gallery at 200 Crichton St.
The Fieldhouse in Stanley Park is home to another community organization, the Crichton Community Council (www.newedinburgh. ca/crichton-community- council). The 3Cs, as it is commonly known, is responsible for activities and events held at the Fieldhouse and surrounding grounds. In the winter, they build and maintain the two community skating rinks, maintain the Fieldhouse as a warming hut and provide hot chocolate. Throughout they year, they hold community events such as the Winter Carnival, Hockey Day in New Edinburgh, the May plant sale, the Ottawa Marathon cheering station, New Edinburgh Garage Sale in September and the Halloween Howl. Outside of the skating season, the community makes use of the Fieldhouse for all types of events, including summer camps, sports and fitness events, birthday parties and more.
NECA —the New Edinburgh Community Alliance— has a general mandate to support the evolution of the community. It takes an interest in liaison with City Hall in heritage and development issues, traffic matters, community safety, environmental matters and other issues that may come up during the year. Since NECA is formally known as an alliance, we think of it as providing a kind of umbrella to help coordinate activities in the community.
These three organizations exist for historical reasons, and we all work collaboratively when the need arises. Two developments have brought us together in recent months.
First, NECTAR’s ability to effectively serve the community and run (or even expand) programming that meets the needs of its wide range of users is severely constrained by its current facility at New Edinburgh House. While it was critical (and timely!) for the re-launch of the organization after its difficult battle for 200 Crichton St., this fine old heritage building is expensive to operate and maintain. It has been a constant challenge to keep both the programming and the building afloat, one that will only be more difficult in the future as building accessibility and lifecycle costs continue to loom large.
Apart from successfully lobbying the City for an exemption from property taxes for NE House (in line with other community centres in Ottawa), NECTAR has not been able to obtain ongoing capital and operational support. The Fieldhouse, on the other hand, is a City-owned facility and is therefore entitled to receive City support. Unfortunately, the City’s policy, not unreasonably, is to support only one facility per community, so it has consistently declined to provide assistance to NECTAR.
Second, our city councillor, Tobi Nussbaum, came to us to suggest that our community might qualify for a capital grant, subject to certain conditions. This grant could be used to enhance and enlarge the Fieldhouse facility. NECTAR activities could then be transferred there. With the enlarged Fieldhouse facility continuing to receive ongoing City support, a large portion of NECTAR’s operational costs and future risks would be eliminated. Additionally, a purpose-built community facility would allow for a much more effective platform to deliver community programming and to host community events, a significant benefit to NECTAR, the 3Cs, and the community at large.
In light of this, our three community associations formed a Steering Committee to explore this idea and dis- cuss what a transition to an enhanced facility might involve. Each association is represented on this committee, and on a smaller Executive Committee which has met several times over the summer, including a helpful consultation with City officials facilitated and chaired by Tobi.
The Executive Committee comprises Sean Flynn from NECTAR, Debra Conner from the 3Cs, Jennifer Irwin from NECA, Paula Thompson who has served on both NECA and NECTAR boards, and myself, Tim Plumptre, as Chair.
One of the early questions we confronted is what a new facility or concept might be called. How to refer to this opportunity? Paula did some great research and pro- vided us with her reflections and suggestions, (found on page 3). Subject to views from the community, the Steering Committee endorsed the following designation for the project: “The New Edinburgh Community Junction”.
For a small community like New Edinburgh, this opportunity raises several very practical questions, such as:
- Would a new location at the Fieldhouse be appropriate for the community?
- What kinds of activities and facilities might a new “Community Junction” provide?
- What might it imply for neighbouring residents and for traffic flows?
- What would this initiative cost, both in capital and operating expenses?
- Can the necessary funds from the community be raised? (The City would look for matching funds from New Edinburgh.)
- What governance arrangements for the “Community Junction” would make sense?
To consider some of these and related questions, and to provide residents with an opportunity to have their say, NECA in association with NECTAR and the 3Cs will be hosting its third Community Forum, concurrently with our Annual General Meeting, on October 29 at 7:30pm at St. Bartholomew’s Church on MacKay St.
To learn more about the “Junction” initiative, to contribute your thoughts, and to be updated generally on other NECA activities, we hope you will attend.