Innovation Institute strikes a chord with Council

Bruce Power brought an update to Council on Monday, August 27th, on the proposed Innovation Institute to be located in Southampton adjacent to the Bruce County Museum & Cultural Centre.

                             Bruce County Museum and Cultural Centre
         Fairy Lake in Autumn

Frank Saunders who is heading up the project said that,  “The location is idyllic for this type of facility when you think of academic pursuit with history on one side (Museum) and newest of the new on the other feels good. The location close to downtown Southampton really reminds me of the small college towns that used    to exist and it felt that the ambiance really suits what we are trying to do and trying to reach out to others and that’s why we suggested the location.  I think the early consultation was very productive and I realize that it can be difficult as there is no design yet and it feels like there may be no answers, but I can assure you we are listening to the comments.  With regard to traffic and parking, I don’t see why we can’t make recommendations and I don’t see why we can’t offer something that’s even better than what’s there now.  Next time we come back, we’ll have some concepts that will start to answer the questions.”

Councilor Don Matheson said that 85 people who attended the public meetings is a “good number but not enough to base any data on as it’s only a fraction of the population.”  He went on to say that he looks forward to the project.  “This is the opportunity of a lifetime that will put us on a par with the ‘think tank’ that’s in Waterloo and Silicone Valley in California.  The future things that will come out of this, such as joint partnerships with universities, is fantastic.  I know that Bruce Power will look at every aspect and it will be one of the safest places to go to and one of the most beautiful, aesthetically pleasing buildings that we will have and will match the Museum and culture of the town.”

Councilor Cheryl Grace on the other hand raised several areas of concern to her.  She asked if a notice of a public meeting had been specifically addressed or sent via ‘bulk’ mail.  Matt Meade, Research Analyst confirmed that is was sent through Canada Post ‘bulk’ mail.  “Approximately 20 per cent of Southampton has a ‘no bulk mail’ order on their postal boxes so perhaps another system should be looked at.  Also, the Southampton Residents Association (SRA) was not contacted and they have a significant number of members.  I suggest you contact them.”

Grace also pointed out that there were 3,160 residents aged 19 and over (according to the last census in 2016) not taking into account the approximately 1,000 summer residents who own property.  “Therefore, less than one per cent of the population indicated support for the Institute.”  Grace referred to the ‘Manse’ house and the possibility that it might be incorporated into the Institute design.  She said that she analyzed the data in the Bruce Power report and that, as far as she discerned, there were few comments (six) that mentioned the incorporation of the house. She also said that at the July 5th meeting, it was said that the decision for the location was made in May and asked if there were any other locations being considered.

Frank Saunders said that no other location had been considered as yet.

Councilor Neil Menage said he was “… confounded that we would look at this amazing future opportunity and waste any kind of justice to a handful of people.  We have been this route before in this community … some of these projects transcend the local community.  They are good for the greater community of all of Saugeen Shores and Bruce County.  I absolutely oppose the notion that we have to do mail-outs to specific people in Southampton who block their mail.  If we are going to take that route, then consider all of Saugeen Shores and, possibly, all of Bruce County.  This is a Bruce County proposal.  This is 40 people in an education facility and we have ratcheted this right up by a few who say we are not going to do it. I can line up hundreds of people who say we should do it in Saugeen Shores and that location is a really good one.  We’ve got some neighbourhood feedback and now we need to look at the broader community.”

Menage also suggested that the next neighbourhood meeting be held in the Plex and that all the concerns be brought forward such as safety and traffic. “This is about 40 people in a semi-office, educational facility and we are off in left field worried about the wrong things.”

Councilor Dave Myette pointed out that the job of Councilors is to talk with the people throughout the community and listen to what they have to say.  “Over the summer, I have attended many functions and quite often this topic comes up.  Quite frankly, the feed back that I have had is that this (Institute) is a great concept and there is excitement around it.  I would encourage people to come to the next information session and give their positive feedback.  Let’s face it, people who are motivated by unfounded fears of traffic concerns are more prone to give feedback than are those who are in favour of the project.  Those who are in favour simply move on but this is a great opportunity and something that we all need to get behind in Saugeen Shores.”

Deputy Mayor Luke Charbonneau said that he appreciated the early community consultations and the comments about mitigation about concerns is a good thing.  He said that most of the concerns brought forward could, in fact, be mitigated.  “I look forward to the work being done around concerns.  It’s important to think that you (Bruce Power) could go buy land on your own and build a building where people who work there we would never know what they do or we would never hear from them.  The idea that you are thinking about doing this in a public building connected to a public use building is an opportunity we shouldn’t overlook because it give the community the opportunity to be involved in some way in what you are doing.  When we talk about risks or concerns about the affect on children and the issues around G. C. Huston (public school), there is also a potential benefit to all students in the community. When they go to the Museum, they will have the chance to see what is happening with Artificial Intelligence (AI) and nuclear science at this institute. ”

Charbonneau asked that, once the institute is up and running, how students would benefit or if it’s on the radar to have them involved.

Frank Saunders explained that there are concepts and, from a student education view, they will be working with the local school boards to raise opportunities for students at a young age to introduce them to challenging and interesting projects around AI and internet technology (IT) and how it works.  “We see it as an opportunity for students to come and work on a project for a day or so and, over the period of a few months, they would then turn their project in to the school.  Hopefully, the kids will then get exposed to this kind of technology and go off to university and take science related courses and come back so that they stay in the area.  This will be a not-for-profit organization and we will be sharing space not only with Bruce Power but also community and county work, as well through innovation to build more jobs and products.  There is no reason this has to be only around nuclear.  We could have bought land elsewhere but felt that  community involvement is important and this was the right location for that.”

Councilor Mike Myatt said that the most important thing to remember is that “… this is a wonderful initiative for Saugeen Shores and, having chosen Southampton, I think is a wonderful thing too.  I think this is a tremendous addition for Saugeen Shores.”  He also wanted to know if the public would continue to have input and when conceptual drawings would be coming forward.

Matt Meade explained that an architectural firm has been engaged and that conceptual drawings may come forward in September as soon as a date for a further neighbourhood session has been determined.

Vice-Deputy Mayor Diane Huber applauded some of the ideas such as the ‘complete streets’ idea in the presentation and that it could be part of the Master Transportation Plan.  “I also like the idea that this is close to downtown.  At times there are a lot of cars in the neighbourhood for special events, but it all works out and it creates an energy that’s healthy and good for the vibrancy of the community.  What I like about the location is about sharing space with the Museum and potential community partners.  We have the Coliseum for a large event, the Town Hall that may be expanding and upgraded with space, the Fire Hall, the three Churches with space and, therefore, the opportunity for future revenue.”

Huber, born and raised in Southampton, pointed out that there used to be two banks in Southampton and other businesses in an office-type setting where employees would go have lunch or walk out and shop “… and that is missing now in Southampton.  The idea of having more people who would take a walk or have a coffee and clustering some activities is exciting. I, too, have worried about that heritage home on the corner but it has never had any protections on it and can be knocked down.  I would hope however, that it could somehow be worked in by a smart architect.  There would be a ‘book-end’ possibility with the Museum.  I also appreciate the aesthetics of Fairy Lake and an accessible entrance and the thought that this might become an inspirational type setting is very exciting.”

Huber also explained that as a student at G. C. Huston public school, she had walked on the street (Victoria St.) and, although appreciating the concerns around traffic, pointed out that children would also be exposed to a beautiful building where something is going on and that it would be exciting for the future of Southampton.  “I am hopeful that you are listening to people and when the concept comes out that it is something that will enhance our civic pride and continue to support a strong downtown and I think that’s what most people in Southampton want.”

Councilor Matheson also said that he wanted to take the opportunity to commend Councilor Menage.  “At the beginning of our term (on Council) four years ago, he said that he wanted to see a ‘think tank’ or institute of some sort come to this area and now it’s coming to fruition.”

Mayor Mike Smith said the felt it important that the community be kept “apprised of this initiative”.  “I agree with Councilor Myette.  I go to many events in the community and there is a real anticipation and excitement about what is happening in Saugeen Shores.  I attended the July 5th meeting and I know that you are on track with coming forward with answers to some of the concerns.”