No fences – barricades removed from Margo Fournier Centre

A fence surrounds the Margo Fournier Centre’s east side lawn on Wednesday, Aug. 12. The fence was removed following the Aug. 16 council meeting. Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

Susan McNeil

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The fence around the Margo Fournier Centre has been removed after city council voted 5-4 on Monday to take the barricades down immediately.

According to Mayor Greg Dionne, the fence went up after a senior was mugged going into the Heritage Centre. He said as unsightly as it was, it was a temporary solution that made the people going into the centre feel safer. 

“I will not be supporting the motion because there’s no solution up there,” Dionne said. “The fence went up at the Centre the day we went there and saw the action that was going on. A senior was walking by to get to the Heritage Centre – which she has the right to do – and someone got up off the grass and stole her bag.”

Coun. Tony Head put the item on the agenda, saying fences don’t work and council needs to look at the bigger picture.

“I don’t have a solution but I know the fence, as you said, is not the solution,” he said to Dionne. “It was a short-sighted, temporary solution. It makes us look worse than the problem actually is.”

Head told council there was a need to ensure the safety of staff and seniors. He said putting a police car out in front of the building may be a better solution.

Head also pointed out that nothing stops people from getting mugged outside of the fence.

“Are we going to put a fence around the whole of Prince Albert? That’s not going to do it and we need to address it.” 

Head said many people have contacted him objecting to the fence, while Dionne said that the contacts he has made have applauded the fence.

“They would sooner see a fence there than the activities going on,” Dionne said.

He also said another fence was put up in the area after a different senior was accosted by a homeless person. “That is not right,” he stated. 

Coun. Blake Edwards also did not support the motion, saying employee safety needs to be the priority and staff should not have to witness some of the things going on in the vicinity. 

“It’s free access to urinate and defecate right there. It’s free access to use needles and drop them right there,” Edwards said of what is happening.

“There is no direct solution but if we can keep the city employees safer, I’m all in. Right now, around the Margo Fournier, it’s terrible,” he said. “They shouldn’t have to see people peeing on the walls. They don’t have a home, I get it. Some of them don’t want a home. So what do we do with those people?”

Dionne challenged any councillor who voted in favour of removing the fence to explain why to the people who use the Heritage Centre. 

“If you want to be counted, let me know and if the motion passes, I will be arranging a meeting with the 300 seniors at the senior centre and you can come and explain why the fence came down and what the solution is going to be,” Dionne said. 

Dennis Ogrodnick said that a solution to the problems now existing on the river bank was proposed in 2011 that involved having the downtown core from the bridge to Riverside School be made a positive gathering place.  The report was shelved. 

“It was a 10-year solution. They said this is what you do each year and in 10 years, which is 2021, we would have had that entire area developed and it would have been a gathering place and it would have been a positive place,” he said. 

Terra Lennox-Zepp supported prioritizing the river bank for changes, acting on another councillor’s suggestion to use the Margo Fournier Centre as a cooling centre in hot weather. She also wanted to focus on downtown revitalization. 

“We as a city paid $45,000 for a downtown revitalization report. Now it’s a matter of implementing it. It’s a total of a $7 million project but its broken down into components,” she said. 

Couns. Lennox-Zepp, Ogrodnick, Head, Charlene Miller and Dawn Kilmer all voted in favour of removing the fence.

Dionne, Edwards, Don Cody and Ted Zurakowski opposed the removal.