The City of Duncan wants to know how much interest there is in the community to fix and maintain the cob oven in Centennial Park before it considers putting any money and effort into it.
Council decided at a recent meeting to initiate a Request for Expressions of Interest for a group or individual to assist with the future operation and maintenance of the cob oven, which has been in place in Centennial Park since 2012.
As opposed to a request for proposals, a RFEOI simply solicits prospective applicants rather than developing a more definitive set of terms and conditions, scope of work or service at such an early stage.
Coun. Carol Newington said she would love to see the cob oven in use again, but she finds it isn’t user friendly.
“I wonder just how much community interest there is in it,” she said.
“I wouldn’t want to spend any money on it if it won’t be used. I’m looking forward to see what the response to the RFEOI will be.”
The cob oven is a “rocket stove”, a highly adaptable device that readily converts wood scraps, branches, and other plant material into immediately available heat for cooking, heating, and drying.
In 2012, Cowichan Community Kitchens, who work under the umbrella of Hiiye’yu Lelum, House of Friendship, applied for and received a grant-in-aid from the city for $2,500 for seed money to hire a project coordinator for the creation of the outdoor oven.
Since then, the city has invested another $7,500 towards the construction of the cob oven and the kitchen and garden program around it, and other funding was provided by the BC Arts Council, for an estimated amount of $22,500.
In 2013, an agreement was signed between Cowichan Community Kitchens and the city for the operation and maintenance of the facility, and citizens were allowed to apply for use of the cob oven for public or group lunch gatherings.
A staff report said the House of Friendship has fixed and maintained the cob oven to the best of their abilities while in operation, but, in the past year the cob oven has not been used, and ongoing vandalism and drug paraphernalia have been mitigating factors in a re-evaluation of the commitment to the oven taken by the House of Friendship, resulting in a decision to recuse themselves from the agreement.
However, since then, the House of Friendship has advised that they were successful with a Peninsula Co-Op community grant to fix and maintain the oven for $5,000, and have offered the grant to the city for that purpose.
“City staff believe the cob oven is a great community asset and request that the city manage its maintenance and use,” the report said.
“The cob oven has now been assessed and requires maintenance to be operational for public use. As well, the cob oven should be secured in some way to prevent future vandalism.”
Staff had recommended that council invest an additional $10,000 to restore the oven on top of the $5,000 from the Peninsula Co-Op, but many council members were reluctant to commit more money until community interest in operating the oven is assessed.
But Coun. Garry Bruce said he isn’t even interested in having the staff spend the time to put out a RFEOI for the oven.
“It’s beyond our pale,” he said.
“Once we have all the sewers running, our water is good and there are no more potholes on our road, then we can worry about this. If we want to see if there are any expressions of interest from the community, it will still take staff’s time to do that, and I don’t want to spend another dime on it.”