Whistler Sustainability Centre signs $175,000 contract 

But council grills executive director on financing

Just months off the ground, Whistler's Sustainability Centre has signed a deal with its first paying client: the City of Williams Lake.

Through a $175,000 contract, the centre will work with Smart Growth B.C. and The Natural Step Canada to help the northern B.C. city develop a sustainability plan.

Whistler will get $40,000 of that money.

"Williams Lake is one of the first communities in B.C. that are doing this jointly - the official community plan and integrated community sustainability plan - so we are really happy to have gotten that contract," said Cheeying Ho, the centre's executive director.

Kerry Cook, mayor of Williams Lake, was also enthusiastic about the partnership.

"Our municipality has been striving towards sustainability in our community for some time, and we feel this is moving a step ahead with a comprehensive approach to planning," said Cook.

"Whistler is a great example. They have always been avant-guarde. What community would not be excited to work with award-winning organizations?"

While the partnership represents good news to the non-profit group - which held its first strategic planning session last month - Whistler council grilled Ho during Tuesday night's public meeting about the centre's financial "sustainability."

"I don't want to throw cold water on it, but given our current economic climate is it realistic to think we can sustain the cost of a sustainability centre?" asked Councillor Tom Thomson.

Ho told the councillors that she believes the centre offers a unique service to municipalities in B.C.

She said while several private companies in the province offer sustainability consultant work, members of Whistler's centre have actual experience implementing these strategies into a municipality.

"We have been doing some market research and that is one area that local governments feel they need," said Ho.

"Local governments within B.C. alone have a mandate to do sustainability planning and a mandate to include green house targets in their official community plans... I believe within B.C., we can satisfy our revenue generating potential."

The centre's total budget for 2009 is $650,000.

Of that, $450,000 will come from the Resort Municipality of Whistler, through $120,000 in seed money and funding from Whistler 2020; and $100,000 will come from a grant from B.C. Hydro. The other $100,000 the Centre hopes to recoup through similar contracts to the Williams Lake one.

Ho said, however, that she hasn't developed a budget yet for 2010, and she is still working on the centre's business plan.

"Next year, we are crossing our fingers that the economy will turn around."

The Sustainability Centre was developed out of an initiative from Whistler 2020, and currently consists of a team of four employees working out of municipal hall. Eventually the aim of the centre is to provide consulting services for groups both within Whistler and beyond on economic, social and environmental sustainability. For example, Ho envisions the centre developing education resources, workshops, presentations and examples.

Also, the municipality has committed seed funding to the Centre of $120,00 a year for five years.

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