Two opposition voices on Surrey City Council say construction of a large new community centre in Newton should not be delayed, contrary to what a local business group feels about the project.
Safe Surrey Coalition councillors Doug Elford and Mandeep Nagra say the facility, planned for a vacant lot on King George Boulevard, is much needed in Newton.
The area has “historically been neglected and under-invested in by previous city councils,” the councillors charge in a Jan. 25 statement, released after Newton Business Improvement Association (BIA) suggested the estimated $100 million might be better spent on redeveloping existing recreation facilities a block northeast of there, off 72 Avenue.
The Newton Community Centre project was revealed in 2020 by then-mayor Doug McCallum and his Safe Surrey-dominated council. By 2022, drawings of the first phase showed a 10-lane, 50-metre lap pool, leisure pool, lazy river and other water attractions on the site, not far from Newton’s existing wave pool.
Philip Aguirre, the BIA’s executive director, says it’s time to “rethink the project,” now that city hall has a new council led by Mayor Brenda Locke.
The two Safe Surrey councillors fired back.
“It is unfortunate that Mr. Aguirre, who does not reside in Surrey, is advocating for delaying this important project for our community and young families,” Elford stated. “The new Newton Community Centre will be a vital resource for residents and should not be delayed by the personal opinions of those who do not reside in the area.”
A Vancouver resident, Aguirre is the longtime operator of Old Surrey Restaurant on 72 Avenue in Newton.
Added Nagra: “The residents and families of Newton deserve the best and should not be denied access to world-class civic facilities. Safe Surrey Coalition will reject any attempts to delay or impede the construction of the Newton Community Centre.”
A groundbreaking event took place in September, prior to the October civic election, but no construction has started on the site, near 70A Avenue.
The planned community centre sits on the site of a former Rona store, demolished in 2021. “The new facility is expected to be open to the public by the end of 2024,” city hall said at that time.
The project could be reviewed by the city council during the current annual budget cycle, “in context of determining priorities for the next 2023-2028 Five Year Capital Plan,” according to Laurie Cavan, Surrey’s general manager of Parks, Recreation and Culture.
Aguirre’s comments in January echoed those of his in May 2021, when he questioned why the King George site was chosen for a community centre when the area’s “civic core” is located across the street, where an existing recreation centre stands.