In 2009 Parks Board had a golden opportunity to apply for federal stimulus funding to replace the roof of the Bloedel Conservatory. Ottawa was awarding billions of dollars in grants, hand-over-fist to fund infrastructure projects all across the county. When pressed on the matter, Parks Board admitted that they were aware of the stimulus funding at the time; however, they cited insufficient time as a reason why no proposal was submitted for a new roof.
A Vancouver landmark that did receive federal funds was the Sail Restoration at Canada Place. The work is now complete; $21 million was set aside for the roof replacement. The announcement on November 28, 2009 recognized that “this is an important investment in a Canadian icon” and “the tensioned fabric roof of Canada Place is due for replacement”. Across the country several high-profile stimulus funded projects are now coming online. Examples are the recently completed Nanaimo Cruise Ship terminal and the makeover of Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto into an Athletics Centre for Ryerson University. Did the City of Vancouver miss out by not applying for federal stimulus funds to refurbish the roof of the Bloedel Conservatory? How can we make sure that it doesn’t happen again? While of course there is no guarantee that the federal government would have awarded a few million dollars in stimulus infrastructure funding, a proposal certainly could have garnered considerable merit for consideration simply based on the other of projects that were approved at the time. It’s worthwhile noting that four Vision Commissioners on Parks Board had voted to close the Conservatory after February of 2010, citing the high costs to replace the roof as a justification for this course of action (COPE, Green Party & NPA commissioners were opposed to the closure during the Parks Board budget debates in December 2009). Fortunately, due to the tireless work of individuals and groups like Friends of the Bloedel the Parks Board reversed the closure, and an arrangement was made later in 2010 to save the conservatory in cooperation with the VanDusen Botanical Garden. Apart from routine maintenance work on the Conservatory, the same 42 year-old roof remains in place. The roof will need to eventually be replaced; the question now is who will pay for this?