Victoria selects firm to revamp Centennial Square as group continues to protect fountain

CHEK

The City of Victoria has selected a design firm to revamp Centennial Square, as a group prepares to march to protect the fountain at its centre.

Vancouver-based Dialog has won a $750,000 contract to design the nearly 60-year-old landmark, originally gifted by local municipalities in 1965.

“We’re really excited, we’ve landed an excellent design firm,” said Derrick Newman, the city’s parks, recreation and facilities director.

Saanich, Esquimalt, and Oak Bay gifted the fountain to commemorate the city’s 100th birthday. City council approved the contract last year as part of the Centennial Square Action Plan, which said it’d feature a new splash pad play area, space for a commercial kiosk, and better seating.

“[It’ll have] improvements to the square to modernize aging infrastructure and really to activate the square and to enhance the ability to host larger events and more versatile programming,” said Newman.

However, the revamp plan has been at the centre of a controversy, with members of the Friends of Centennial Square protesting to preserve the historic landmark.

“We kinda wanna be sure that significant history is still celebrated,” said member Chris Gower.

It has not been confirmed yet, but the fountain may be changed or removed altogether, according to Newman. When speaking to CHEK News, the director said a “water feature” could replace the fountain.

“What we heard through our community consultation process was strong support to host larger events and have a more flexible plaza area,” said Newman.

“In order to do that, staff are proposing to replace the water feature with a more modern and enhanced water feature.”

Newman says the idea came from other parks in Canada, using Green Harbour Park in Vancouver as an example.

“The fountain is a given, and it should remain a given,” said Gower.

Gower, who is also an architect, does agree that the square needs restoration work and is open to the addition of public and commercial spaces.

But keeping the fountain is what the group wants the city to be a part of the revamp plan.

“We think that would be a massive, unnecessary and expensive loss. We think the fountain serves many purposes, and it needs to be refurbished and restored. The costs to do that would be minor,” said Gower.

Some of the fountain could stay in the new plan. Newman emphasizes that the fountain and the monoliths are being treated as two separate components, and there is a chance the large structures could stay in the square.

“Obviously, there’s a strong community connection to the heritage elements and the history of the monoliths, and staff is going to consider those options to bring forward a plan for those features as part of the updated concept designs,” said Newman.

Upcoming march at Centennial Square

The Friends of Centennial Square coalition is planning a march around the fountain between 5:45 p.m. to 6:15 p.m. on Feb. 8, ahead of statements from a member that will be presented to council later that evening.

The group hopes the city will reconsider its stance on the water fountain.

“The planning for the square can be constructive, can have some positive improvements…we think that’s not a contradiction of the fountain. We think it fits in perfectly,” said Gower.

The design plans still need to be approved by council, which is expected to be completed by late spring. Newman hopes to have shovels in the ground sometime next year.

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