Councillors are considering putting $2.5 million toward a new greenhouse for the Halifax Public Gardens.
Robert Pace, chair of the Public Gardens Foundation board, presented the idea to council’s Community Planning and Economic Development Standing Committee on Thursday.
Pace is one of the authors of a new book, The Halifax Public Gardens: The creation, destruction and restoration of North America’s finest Victorian public gardens, along with Robert Salah and Peter Twohig.
“It outlines the creation of the gardens, the destruction of the gardens, and the restoration of the gardens. But on reflection — I guess during the pandemic, we all had a lot of time to reflect — we said, ‘Well, we should put something in there to talk about the future of the gardens,'” Pace said.
“And we kind of laid out that the unsightly greenhouses that have been there for 50 to 60 years across the street, we should step up our game and build a public greenhouse that people can go in every day of the year and see how a greenhouse works.”
There’s a need, Pace said, to restore this section of the gardens, on Sackville Street next to the Wanderers Grounds.
Pace is proposing to tear down the existing greenhouse and replace it with a Victorian-style, 10,000-12,000-square foot greenhouse that’s open to the public year-round. Underground, there would be space to house maintenance equipment for the outdoor gardens across the street. The project would be done by the summer of 2024.
“Something that looks majestic would be fitting with what’s presently there,” he said.
Pace is looking for $2.5 million from each of the three levels of government toward what he estimates is an $8-million project. Federal politicians are “enthusiastically in support” of contribution, Pace said, and he’s had the same response from the province. He’d raise the remaining $500,000.
He asked the committee to support the concept, commit to $2.5 million, and set up a committee to iron out the details.
More consultation needed, says councillor
Coun. Waye Mason, who represents the area, is in Ottawa for meetings about the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ Green Municipal Fund. Coun. Lindell Smith read a statement on his behalf, calling it an “exciting proposal,” but citing two concerns.
First was a lack of consultation with the Bengal Lancers, Wanderers FC, and Wanderers Lawn Bowling.
“We need to make sure we ensure all voices are heard and the end result accommodates all the users’ needs,” Smith read.
Pace said it doesn’t make sense to have the lawn bowling facility where it is now.
“I anticipated the challenge here, and I’ve opened up the door and those discussions will take place,” he said.
Councillors voted in February to direct staff to conduct more consultation on the entire Halifax Common Master Plan, including this block. That vote came after concerns the Lancers and Friends of Halifax Common.
That group raised those concerns again this week with a letter to the committee. But it supported in principle the plan for a new greenhouse.
“The Wanderers Block should be treated as part of the whole rather than risk fragmentation because of the lack of integrated planning. HRM staff need to work with the Friends of the Public Gardens to ensure that their proposal is included in a good fulsome public consultation,” director Howard Epstein wrote.
Tough time for a financial commitment
Mason’s second concern was the timing of the request for money.
“I’m skeptical of being able to fund this in the coming year. But if we can do it over a couple of years starting 2024 I think it may be doable,” Smith read.
Coun. Trish Purdy shared that concern, given councillors keep hearing it’s going to be a difficult budget year. But Purdy supported the idea of expanding the Public Gardens indoors.
“They’re such a special, magical place right in the heart of our city. It’s good to to look at future planning to to ensure that it stays that way,” she said.
Mason sent a motion for consideration, where the committee would recommend the municipality conduct that consultation, prepare a staff report on the proposal in the context of the Halifax Common Master Plan, and then identify a funding source. Smith put that motion on the floor.
Coun. Patty Cuttell, chair of the committee, amended the motion to ensure the staff report would explore “governance models for the public garden as a whole.”
Cuttell said she worries the current governance model, with the foundation, could risk overburdening volunteers.
Maggie MacDonald, executive director of Parks and Recreation, said that would make the report more difficult.
“I think there’s definitely a timing challenge associated with having full consideration of the governance structure in time to consider the funding piece,” MacDonald said.
But she committed to trying to incorporate the governance structure into the initial report. The motion passed as amended.