Small attendance at the Bateman visioning exercise - not the way things have worked in the past.

By Pepper Parr

August 24th, 2023



It was an occasion for residents to talk about what they wanted to see taking place at the former Bateman High School site.

A little over 25 people took part in what was described is as a Visioning exercise that asked people to work as a group and come up with what they wanted to see happening in a site that is going to be part Brock University classrooms; part District School Board use with spaces for Tech Place, the library and the triple sized gymnasium is as well is as the swimming pools.

It wasn’t a huge crowd – but it was a group of people putting their ideas on the table.

Before this first opportunity for the public to have input many thought this exercise should have taken place before the city committed to buying the property.

Some of the ideas that were put forward. There was no clear consensus.

Interesting ideas

Denise Beard, Manager of Community Development for the City explained to the people attending that the focus was on what would take place INSIDE the building. Anything done to the track at the back of the site would be covered later in the year. Same with the amount of parking space that would be available.

The objective was for each of the eight tables with 4 to 10 people at each table was to come up with their best idea for what the space should/could be used for.

There were people taking part that had their own vested interests – Beard acknowledged that this was expected and explained as well that once the visioning exercises were completed and all the data analyzed a Staff Report would be sent to Council where the final decision would be made.

Parks Recreation and Culture were given an assignment that got caught up in the politics of the City acquiring the former Bateman High School. They are managing as best they can with the skills they have.

In Burlington Staff reports are sent to a Standing Committee where there is ample time for discussion and delegations to be heard.

So how did the people who were asked to vision do?

Advocating for an idea.

They were given yellow Post It notes and asked to put one idea on a post it Note. Just one idea.  There was no limit on how many ideas a person could put forward.

They were then asked to go to the sheets put up on the wall and instructed to put the Post-It notes on the lower part.

Then they were asked to make sure the ideas were Aligned, Desirable and Relevant to what the city was setting out to do.

Then they were asked to group the individual ideas – creating small clusters of ideas that would become a group idea.

The next to final step was to rank what they had done and come up with the top idea for the group.

After that, each table reported to everyone else the vision that table had arrived at.

One participant remarked that it had been 30 years since he had done one of these visioning exercises adding – “we did this when I was at Sears”

The end result was not all that focused – what was clear was that those participating wanted, whatever the place is going to be named, to be a place where people went to do things that were community based and applicable to every demographic.

Considering some of the options; each Post It note was an idea someone wanted to see take place.

The idea for a repair spot is something being done from time to time by a group in Burlington.

Some of the artists wanted space where groups of people could do their art; opportunities like that are available at the Art Gallery.

Some were surprised to learn that the high school stage was being removed.

The participants learned that some of the space on the second level would be available for five years but that Brock University had an option to take over that space after five years which cuts down the space from 21,000 sq ft down to 14,000 square feet.  I think this was the first time those numbers were made public

The Parks, Recreation and Culture people don’t yet have a layout document that could be printed on big big pieces of paper with measurements clearly shown that people could work from.

Some thought the library was too small.

The three gymnasiums that can be opened up into one very large space with each of the three gyms having its own change rooms.

Joanne had to begin ranking the ideas that were put forward.

The word Café came up a number of times: Would the place have a coffee shop where people could gather? No one seemed to know if that had been considered and if a decision had been made.

Ward 4 Councillor Shawna Stole was on hand for most of the evening. The Mayor and Councillors Sharman, Bentivegna and Kelvin Galbraith were in London, Ontario taking part in the AMO conference. Councillor Nisan seems to be out of the city taking care of FCM matters.

Parks, Recreation and Culture will be reaching out to the YMCA, the Art Gallery – all the stakeholders they can think of to bounce off ideas and do their best to avoid any conflicts.

An artist was brought in capture what was happening at the different tables.

Was the visioning exercise a necessary experience done far too late? Tough to make that call. Knowing what the people who are going to pay for whatever this is going to cost much sooner would have helped the people at Parks, Recreation and Culture who have to deliver – that opportunity was lost.

Instead of having the converting of a former high school into a community hub be seen as something the Mayor wanted (Council went along with her) it could have and should have been something that was led by what citizens wanted.

This project stumbled its way forward – recall that the Pier went through the same process.

That seems to be the way municipal government works.

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8 comments to Small attendance at the Bateman visioning exercise – not the way things have worked in the past.

  • Caren

    Today is Thursday, August 24, 2023. Time is 6:00 p.m and I just received a handout entitled “Public Engagement on Former Robert Bateman High School site” from the COB with engagement dates of August 22 and 23, 2023 which dates have already passed!! I was out front when it was delivered.

    • Philip Waggett

      Same here Caren. I received the same flyer today, Aug 25, days after the first two engagement days. Clear statement by the City and Meed Ward of how committed to engagement they really are.

  • Caren

    I am not at all surprised at the turnout for this so called “City Engagement” on the Bateman property. It’s all a scam on the part of our City Council. They say they want residents to engage, but when residents do engage, our City Council doesn’t listen. They do what they want. (And even the Mayor did not attend).
    Also, with the costs associated with the purchase of, and renovations to Bateman, paid for by Burlington tax payers, why are Burlington residents being limited to an extremely small square footage of this public building called our New “Community Centre” ??
    This is totally wrong!!

  • Joe Gaetan

    Of the 25, how many were regulars versus new and interested residents? Just curious. Burlington has roughly 198,557 residents, so can we say that about .0001261% of the resdents were in attendance?

  • Jim Thomson

    I guess the Mayor wasn’t serious about wanting to engage the public on Bateman.
    How did the first engagement sessions get scheduled in conflict with AMO? AMO was scheduled on the City Calendar in December. The Mayor made a point of it during her presentation.

    One correction, the option Brock has on the 8,400 sq. ft. is in addition to the 22,200 sq. ft. that the city has available.

  • Blair Smith

    The same exercise was done for the design of Burlington’s downtown with the same degree of authentic engagement. In this case, the “ideas” will be a shotgun collection of wish lists that will never amount to a focused vision of what the facility should be – with the very limited amount of actual extra functional space. It would be refreshing to see this Council and collection of ’empowered staff’ actually come forward with a plan that was defined, sequenced, costed and measurable. And while we’re at it why does the name of the facility need to be changed? Robert Bateman is an internationally renowned artist; a naturalist, photographer and educator who taught at several High Schools in the City and mentored many of the areas current prominent artists. Could it be that white, straight, elderly males are simply without caché? Or is simply a case that this group of young, entitled and enabled staff needs ‘everything old to be new again’?