Saanich will undergo a review of its lease agreement with Goward House, following the revelation that the Gordon Head property is the only seniors centre in the district with a lease.
At Monday’s council meeting, council approved a recommendation for staff to review the lease arrangement and funding model for the Goward House Society as it differs from other seniors centres. During the public input portion, Goward House president David Eyles spoke to the realization of the contrasting arrangement, which was noticed after council requested a study on lease holders in early 2015.
“When we originally expressed concern regarding our situation, we wished for comparison to Saanich’s other seniors institutions,” said Eyles. “We assumed that they, like Goward House, had leases. It seemed council made the same assumption, so when a report on leases was requested, it only made sense.
“However, it turned out that none of the other seniors organizations had a lease. They had a management agreement or something similar instead.”
As a result, none of the other seniors centres were included in that study, making it difficult for the society to see how Goward House stacks up to other institutions, said Eyles. Despite that, he said the report made a recommendation that the lease not be altered, to which council made a motion to that effect.
Goward House administrator Elaine Leonard told council the society solicits donations from its members to pay for operating funds and capital improvements, holding a membership drive every September.
“We don’t currently know if any other seniors organization makes a similar request to ask their members for donations to keep their ship running,” said Leonard. “We do not feel it is fair that the seniors who attend Goward House are responsible for the entire cost of all the major repairs to the facility, which is owned by Saanich.”
While Leonard and Eyles said they didn’t know what a management agreement would look like, they noted the society is open to exploring it as a possibility to see if it makes more sense than their current lease agreement.
“Our request is not a request for money, it is not a budget item, it is just a request for a review,” said Eyles.
Coun. Vic Derman expressed support for the review, noting Goward House has evolved tremendously since it opened 25 years ago.
“I suspect we’ll find in many ways that they are more similar to other senior centres we have in our municipality,” said Derman. “For that reason, I think it’s very appropriate to make sure that we’re dealing with these groups in the best possible manner, and the review should tell us that.”
Couns. Dean Murdock and Judy Brownoff were also supportive but cautious, fearing a review could overload the district’s engineering, parks and recreation, legislative and finance departments with research that they are already conducting for another report.
“I just want to make sure that we’re not sending staff on multiple paths when we’re looking for probably similar information,” said Murdock.
Derman reiterated his stance, saying a review and comparison of other seniors centres would allow the Goward House to make sure it has a viable, long-term plan.
“If we leave it on the membership paying model, and that membership has to maintain a heritage house for us, it will become problematic,” he said.