Saanich to take over Braefoot Park clubhouse

The chairman of the Braefoot Community Association says he is “shocked and disappointed” that Saanich is terminating a long-time lease with the group and taking over the clubhouse at the municipal park.

Sean Nacey said the association was ready to sign a lease extension — something it has done with the municipality for 34 consecutive years — when it was told by municipal staff last week that it would not renew, and that Saanich Parks and Recreation will assume management and occupancy of the Braefoot Park building in the new year.

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“We’ve been trying to wrap our heads around it … this really came out of left field,” Nacey said in an interview Tuesday. “We had always thought of ­Saanich as a partner.”

Saanich council made the decision during an in-camera session this month.

Nathalie Dechaine, manager of community development and business systems for the municipality, said the Braefoot building — a two-storey structure of about 8,300 square feet with a small banquet hall, meeting room, kitchen, concession area and change rooms — will fill a “critical and immediate need” to support a wider swath of ­Saanich’s population.

“It’s a pandemic now and this will continue through 2021 and we are trying to look ahead,” said Dechaine. “Space is more of a challenge and we need safe places to provide programs.”

Dechaine noted new facilities are required to support the community’s diverse population, including older adults, children and youth, Indigenous, LGBTQ2+, newcomers, immigrants, refugees, low-income families and cultural arts.

Saanich said its parks, recreation and community services department will work with amateur soccer and lacrosse clubs to support programs at the park. Several groups play on the natural and turf fields and use the clubhouse at Braefoot, including the 1,000-member Lakehill Soccer Association.

Dechaine said Saanich will offer Braefoot Community Association a month-to-month lease until the end of April as it transitions to a new location. She added that consideration will be given to any programs or activities being offered not only by the community association, but by sub-tenants to ensure a smooth transition.

Saanich owns the building and maintains park infrastructure as part of its regular operations. Following the transition, all activities and services in the park will be provided directly by Saanich through existing amateur sport user groups or through park permitting and licences.

Nacey said he was a child when his parents and other members of the community built the Braefoot building “for somewhere dry to change after soccer.”

Nacey went through many of the programs offered by the association and earned­ ­scholarships that helped him graduate from the University of Victoria. He now works for the provincial government in Victoria, and has had a son in the programs there.

“It’s a special place,” he said. “A lot of people involved are [second and third generation.] People always give back to the organization.”

Nacey said Braefoot has a long history of serving Saanich, including supporting Indigenous communities, new immigrants and refugees.

The association noted in a statement that over the years, it has provided high-quality, low-cost summer camps at Braefoot Park every summer, with more than 60,000 youth attending the association’s programs over the past 10 years.

The association also said it gives out an average of $15,000 in scholarships every year to post-secondary students who serve the community through volunteering. Most recently, Braefoot started a before-and-after school care program. It has doubled in size in 2020, despite the pandemic.

“I hope that Saanich is willing to work with us,” says Nacey. “We are still trying to recover from the pandemic, which eliminated our major fundraiser of the year, and losing our building on top of that would be tough on us.”

The association has created a letter-writing campaign aimed at urging the mayor and council to reverse the decision.

Nacey said the group has also engaged legal counsel to “navigate next steps.”

“We would at least want a conversation with Saanich … that’s what’s been missing,” he said.

dkloster@timescolonist.com

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