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Burnaby halts memorial bench program: too costly

Rising costs, surging demand and 'challenging and emotional' work mean no new memorial benches in Burnaby at least 2.5 years.
A memorial bench in Burnaby's Confederation Park honours Maisie Blackburn.

People planning to memorialize their loved ones with a park bench in Burnaby are out of luck because the city has decided to suspend the program.

Burnaby’s memorial park bench donation program has gotten so popular – and so costly – city staff have decided to suspend it until at least 2026, according to a staff report going to council Monday.

Since 1992, more and more Burnaby residents have chosen to remember their loved ones with a memorial plaque on a park bench.

Now Burnaby is facing a combination of financial, logistical and administrative challenges and has pressed pause on the program.

Staff say the benches have always been built at a loss.

But while a $1,500 donation in the mid-’90s would cover 80 per cent of the bench’s capital cost, staff say a $3,000 donation now covers only 60 per cent of the $5,000 capital cost and bench installation.

And the donation doesn’t cover administrative costs, which have “compounded significantly,” according to the report.

The “administrative burden” includes processing order forms often requiring language translations, site reviews before and after installations, managing donor information and handling replacements, all with no modern donor tracking system, according to the report.

The report notes maintenance costs the city $2,000 per bench over 10 years ($200 per year).

The city has more than 440 benches of various ages, and staff replace and renew contracts on about 44 bench sites annually.

Staff said memorial benches can be meaningful, but the program has to strike “the right tone.”

Too many benches would compromise the overall park experience, according to the city.

 “Overcrowding parks with benches can detract from the park’s natural beauty and open space,” said the report.

Staff are having trouble finding suitable spots for new benches, in part because the program’s “below-cost structure” has led to an “exponential” jump in donor requests.

This has frustrated potential donors who faced long wait times to sponsor a bench.

Staff tried limiting new donations to 10 per year, according to the report, but requests have escalated to 25 per year or more.

The report said the system has proved “highly frustrating for customers.”

Staff said navigating the topic “can be challenging and emotional, requiring a high degree of sensitivity in customer service interactions.”

The city is now suspending the program for new donation bench requests until it can be updated to meet “current needs in a fiscally responsible way.”

New requests for benches will not be processed until late 2026 at the earliest, since staff don’t expect to review the program until 2025, according to the report.

The city’s program website says it isn’t accepting new donations for dedicated picnic tables either.

“Other donation items, although not typically popular, will continue to be available,” said the report.

The report did not list which items will be available, but a 2020 report notes drinking fountains and trees have also been sponsored through the program.

Council will review the report at its July 8 meeting.

In Vancouver, an $8,500 donation funds a personalized dedication on a bench for 10 years, according to its website.

Richmond charges $3,500 for a bench with one plaque for 10 years; Surrey charges between $2,800 and $3,800 for 20 years.