City council imposes accessibility review for expiring leases

Societies using City of Whitehorse land must now agree to review the accessibility issues of their facilities when their lease agreements come up for renewal.

Societies using City of Whitehorse land must now agree to review the accessibility issues of their facilities when their lease agreements come up for renewal.

But it remains to be seen whether the new standard will yield any concrete improvements or simply exist as a token agreement between two parties.

Councillor Jocelyn Curteanu’s motion, which passed unanimously at Monday night’s meeting, affects all societies that use city land. It was brought forward during a discussion about the terms of Softball Yukon’s lease, which is up for renewal.

The new 10-year lease received first and second reading on Monday and is scheduled for third reading in two weeks.

The lease is accompanied by a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), updated to include the society’s promise to “undertake a review of accessibility issues at the softball parks.”

In return, the City of Whitehorse must “participate and provide advice” on the review and the potential accessibility improvements at the parks.

The promise of a review is as far as it goes. Nowhere in the MOU does it say Softball Yukon would be required to fix any accessibility issues it finds,

Coun. Mike Gladish wasn’t satisfied with the agreement, more specifically with the clause containing the review, and suggested giving it “more teeth.”

“I’d feel comfortable that there will be a serious attempt by Softball Yukon to improve the situation,” he said.

“I’d extend the item to say that improvements will be made to the softball parks, as demand and budget allow, something along those lines.”

But Coun. John Streicker said the lease already has enough authority. If the MOU is cancelled, the society would be responsible for its own bills including water and sewer charges that the city currently covers.

The MOU also affects the three fields next to Takhini Elementary, maintained by Softball Yukon but belonging to Yukon Education.

Streicker said he anticipates Softball Yukon to undertake its review within the first year.

And if the city’s Persons with Disabilities Advisory Committee isn’t satisfied with their efforts, or citizens remain concerned, it will trigger council to test whether the MOU is being respected, he added.

“Softball Yukon then has financial incentive because they don’t want to jeopardize us covering their water charges,” he said.

“I should note that they’ve been a good tenant for us and contribute to the economy. That’s why I believe that working constructively and proactively with them on the accessibility issue will yield a positive result.”

Softball Yukon has operated the Pepsi Softball Centre since 1983 and the Robert Service fields since 1987.

Both were under 30-year leases. City administration is recommending the leases be rolled into one 10-year lease.

Softball Yukon receives annual municipal grants to cover the maintenance costs for the Pepsi Softball Centre. The 2014 grants totaled $22,776 while the 2015 grants totaled $21,724.

Under the new lease agreement, the society would continue to receive annual municipal grants.

George Arcand, executive director of Softball Yukon, said the process of reviewing the society’s facilities began before council heard complaints from the delegates. He stopped short of guaranteeing changes will be made.

“We’re in that process right now but it’ll take some time, it won’t just take a day or two,” he said.

“I’d imagine this will be going on until next spring when we can actually get on site to make the necessary changes. We’ve been working with the city right along and we’ll continue to do that.”

Rick Goodfellow, executive director of the Challenge Disability Resource Group, said council’s decision is an “incredible first step,” but something that should have happened a long time ago.

He said he’s experienced first-hand the challenges of parking at the Pepsi Softball Centre and getting around inside the facility.

“What a nightmare,” he said.

The issue now, Goodfellow said, is there is no standard to hold Softball Yukon to. The National Building Code of Canada – the standard adopted by the City of Whitehorse – doesn’t go very far in terms of accessibility issues, he added.

“It’s a very broad stroke, there is nothing to measure by, nothing to hold anybody to,” he said.

“The Persons with Disability Advisory Committee has asked the city several times to adopt stricter standards, like the ones in the Americans with Disabilities Act. If that was the case, the Pepsi Softball Centre would have to meet those guidelines.”

The decision by council is a small victory for disability advocates, especially for Bonnie Dalziel, Dianne Williams and Helen Stuart.

They’ve spent the past two weeks lobbying members of council for improvements to Softball Yukon’s facilities.

They told council about their concerns over the lack of accessibility at the Pepsi Softball Centre and Robert Service fields, mentioning a number of issues with the facilities such as a lack of handicap parking spaces, the need for handrails on bleachers and extra space for caregivers with friends in wheelchairs.

“I realized that our bleachers aren’t up to par and they need a lot of upgrading,” said Stuart at Monday’s meeting.

She was holding back tears as she explained her husband doesn’t go to softball games with her anymore.

“He won’t go because it’s just too hard to get there. It’s holding a lot of people back.”

Dalziel said she was overwhelmed by the developments.

For 11 years she’s been sending letters to Softball Yukon, she said, but has never received a reply.

“If they indeed intend to carry this out it could be huge,” she said.

“One of the things we have to work on is getting the word out, and telling people in town who’ve stopped going to games because they’d given up.”

Contact Myles Dolphin at

myles@yukon-news.com

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