Apr 28 2010
Woodlands centre block to stay up


The Woodlands tower will stay.

Despite a great deal of sentiment to tear it down, New Westminster city council has decided to keep the Woodlands Centre Block tower upright.
The question of what to do with the controversial tower - the last structure left standing after a major 2008 fire gutted the former Victorian-era Woodlands School - has divided both the community and city council. A recent public consultation process soliciting feedback about what best to do with the remaining building of the now infamous facility for children with mental disabilities presented four possible solutions: Retaining it as a commemorative ruin, creating a community or reflective garden on the site, reusing the structure for a purpose that would somehow benefit former residents and the general community, or simply “other” - meaning people could make their own recommendations.
Of the nearly 200 people who responded to the survey, the final option was by far the most popular. More specifically, 95 per cent of them suggested the empty tower should be demolished because it is too painful a reminder of the alleged widespread abuse that took place at the residential facility.
Mayor Wayne Wright felt this was the right decision to make as well.
“This is very difficult but as long as the building is there, our community is divided,” said Wright. “My job is to be wise enough, hopefully, to try and make the city whole and to give them something positive.”
He urged council to accept staff recommendations and vote to knock the tower down. Instead they opted 4-3 to preserve it as a memorial.
“I’m very uncomfortable with the idea of destroying it entirely,” said Coun. Lori Williams. “It’s a part of our history and you can’t just rewrite it. Fifty years down the road, they would wonder why we did this.”
It will cost roughly $1,034,000 to turn the dilapidated tower, currently boarded up and fenced off from the public, into a commemorative site, according to a staff report. The building would also have to be permanently sealed up to prevent people from entering and the annual upkeep is estimated at around $4,000.
“I’ve been pulled back and forth but in the end the question is: Who will look after it, who has the capital?” asked Coun. Betty McIntosh, who supported the staff recommendation to destroy the tower. “Are we going to have ‘Friends of the Tower’ develop?”
Coun. Bob Osterman also sided with the mayor, saying “ultimately it’s private property and I think this is the middle course.”
The decision to go against the public consultation they sought isn’t going over too well with some members of the community.
“I’m stunned,” said Ross Chilton, executive director of the Community Living Society. “When you have a consultation process that is undertaken over months that has a huge majority requesting demolition and council then overrides that, I think that is terribly unfair. This shows a fundamental disregard for the input of people, many of whom were incarcerated and abused inside the facility.”
Lucille Ayers, secretary of the Family Link Society (formerly known as the Woodlands Parents Group), was outraged by the decision.
“How could they be so arrogant to go against the wishes of everybody that was there for all those years and after all the time and money that went into it?” she asked.
“I am so angry right now,” said Jackie Maniago, who has a son who lived at Woodlands. “The people who lived there have spoken and said they don’t want a reminder of what took place.”
Calls to Onni, the property owner of the Victoria Hill community development project whose grounds includes the tower, were not returned by The NewsLeader’s deadline.

© Copyright 2007 New Westminster News Leader