On Sunday I attended a meeting of more than 100 local residents who squeezed into a meeting room to learn more about the closure of Dunsmuir Lodge which is scheduled for this Saturday. The facility has long been a venue for continuing studies as well as a conference centre boasting one of the most reliably good restaurants around, not coasting on its unparalleled views of the Saanich Peninsula or its proximity to John Dean Park.
The University of Victoria had been left this property in 1985 and decided to close it last October, but without any discussion with the local residents; and it was clear from the tone of the meeting that the university has sucker-punched its own fortunes through its handling of this and other legacies which it had sold off in the past.
Though the university says it’s not selling Dunsmuir, at least not right now, it is certainly costing a bundle to close the doors and put its 70 employees out of work. A meeting had been planned for earlier this month but the university said it was ‘not ready’ to answer questions yet, so it waited until six days before the closure to face the music. A fact sheet was distributed which said
“While the facility is covering day-to-day costs, it does not generate enough income for much needed upgrades…UVic has made significant upgrades to the facility over the past few years but it cannot continue to divert resources from its core educational mission to operate the lodge to make it viable for the long term.”
I think one woman – an adult course-taker – spoke for almost all those present when she said “we too are your core educational mission”. Other points made included the observation that North Saanich had waived property taxes on the facility because of its educational status; what would happen now? And residents were livid that no local consultation had been taken on ways of raising the estimated $2million upgrading bill; the costs of closure are about $100,000 to close the doors and another $100,000 per year to keep it on mothballs – that is assuming no tax bill suddenly lands on the doorstep.
The attendees got downright angry when the spokeswoman described Dunsmuir as “remote” – as was pointed out, the airport is practically on its doorstep, with the ferry terminal some ten minutes up the road; any replacement venue – and facilities of this size and suitability to purpose simply do not exist – is unlikely to be any closer to UVic, if that is the measure of remote. The spokeswomen declined to say where they’d been looking for replacements, but I gather everything from theatres to church halls have been looked at.
The staff who lose their jobs, many of them after 20 years, were told that the timing was arranged just for them, so they could jack in boring old job security and seek exciting new seasonal work in the tourism industry.