The just-finished two-year effort to rebuild 9th Street’s surface and below ground civic works was the most satisfying single project and challenge faced by former District of Houston chief administrative officer Gerald Pinchbeck during his time here.
“It was the biggest project we had taken on in some time, and is one that will have lasting impacts for the community,” said Pinchbeck who left the District the end of July for a new job as chief administrative officer for the District of Vanderhoof. He began as Houston’s corporate services officer in Feb. 2016 before being promoted to the top job in January 2018.
The 9th Street project is regarded as the first phase of a multi-phase — and multi-million dollar — longterm revitalization of the downtown core with 10th and 11th in the plan for the years ahead.
“It was an excellent opportunity to engage with the public and business community into how they wished to define the core area of the community for a generation to come,” said Pinchbeck of 9th Street.
“I also cannot understate how much I appreciated the expertise of everyone that worked on this project, especially with the team at [consultants] Urban Systems and the public works team here. They helped to make a big project like this feel a bit smaller and manageable.”
The 9th St. project also represented a significant move by the District to advance the community following the 2014 closure of Houston Forest Products and the resulting loss of jobs and a tax base.
Pinchbeck said the community’s fortunes began to turn around when Buy Low once again established a grocery store and Coastal GasLink’s natural gas pipeline to feed the LNG Canada facility at Kitimat received the go ahead.
“I’d like to think I helped to position the District to be supportive of this shift into a time of economic growth and development and ensure that there was no mystery when it came to development approval timelines, application requirements and cost implications,” he said.
The 9th St. revitalization was financed by a combination of the District’s own reserves and finances and an infusion thanks to a major provincial grant, a circumstance that also highlight’s Houston challenge in financing infrastructure replacement.
“Not only does the community’s infrastructure need significantly more investment, there will be added to pressures to convert facilities to net-zero emissions in line with provincially-mandated greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets,” said Pinchbeck.
As an example, the District’s public works shop doesn’t retain heat well but switching from natural gas to electric heat pumps or other electric means would be expensive, he said.
“Efforts will also need to be made as work is completed to bring municipal facilities up to modern building code standards,” Pinchbeck added.
With Houston still recovering from the loss of Houston Forest Products, tax increases alone cannot be the only way to finance infrastructure, he added.
“I am very proud of the combined efforts of staff to continually search out grant funding opportunities, getting creative with financing infrastructure and development, and on advancing our asset management program,” Pinchbeck said.
In addition to infrastructure challenges, Pinchbeck said the District will also face retirements of longterm employees, requiring an internal program to promote from within.
“I’m proud to say that there as been work done to advance our capability to support the development of internal staff and to collaborate with community and regional partners where capacity is needed,” he said.
And there is also a province-wide challenge in having highly experienced people taking retirements as well as a more people moving from job to job instead of staying in one position.
“The best way that any organization can address this is to commit themselves to training and developing all levels of staff, where it is someone new in an entry position or a long-term employee who is ready for a change,” said Pinchbeck.
A graduate of the University of Northern B.C. with a BA in political science, Pinchbeck discovered he had a keen interest in local government matters, something that took him to the City of Quesnel through an internship program financed by the Northern Development Initiative Trust.
“When I saw the job ad for Houston, it was a natural fit as it gave me the opportunity to be the corporate officer and gain a wide set of experience, rather than limited opportunities and scope for experience in larger centres,” he said.
It’s an education and career path that Pinchbeck says proves the value of northern institutions such as UNBC and the Northern Development Initiative Trust.
“Both institutions emphasize and stress the value that their graduates can have for these communities,” he said.