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Burnaby to keep memorial bench program despite staff concerns

Staff will begin work on a policy for the memorial bench program next year.
Burnaby council directed staff to continue working with the public on memorial bench requests.

If you want to commemorate a loved one with a memorial plaque on a park bench in Burnaby, your chances are a little better now than they were earlier this week.

Burnaby council has directed staff to continue with the memorial bench program after staff tried to suspend it.

At a meeting July 8, staff presented a report informing council the program would be put on hold due to increased demand and limited resources.

But Coun. Sav Dhaliwal said while he’s “very sympathetic” to the issues staff raised, he didn’t think the program should be stopped as it’s very well supported by the public.

Council unanimously approved Dhaliwal’s request that staff continue the program with available resources rather than suspend the program.

Coun. Pietro Calendino said he didn’t understand why there aren’t enough bench locations when Burnaby has more than 150 parks and added even the popular parks have “plenty of room” for more benches.

Carmen Gonzalez, deputy general manager of parks, said exploring potentially 160 different park locations with donors is “incredibly time consuming” for the small team on the program with limited resources and no guiding policy.

Another challenge is the demand for donation benches is specific to a handful of locations, usually with views where potential donors have special memories, like Burnaby Mountain and Central Park.

“The entire program itself doesn’t have clearly outlined policies around the aims of the program,” Andre Isakov, director of parks planning, told council.

There’s the option to donate to other city amenities, such as playground equipment, water fountains and bike lockers, but Isakov noted about 98 per cent or more of the requests have been for memorial benches.

The pricing on the other amenities varies “quite wildly,” Gonzalez said, another reason a policy would help staff.

The city currently only allows about 10 new memorial benches per year on a first-come, first-served basis.

The program is run at a loss: the donations are charged at $3,000 but the benches cost $5,000.

Staff said they’ve had to navigate increasing demand for the memorial benches (including “challenging and emotional” conversations) while balancing the number of benches to not “overcrowd” parks – all without a standardized policy.

Gonzalez said the 2024 workplan is fully booked and creating a policy for the memorial benches couldn’t be done this year without taking something off the list.

“Based off of the conversation even here today, there’s clearly a fair bit of work that needs to go into the development of this policy,” she said, and estimated it could take upwards of 12 months to develop a policy and consult with council and the public.

The memorial bench policy will be added to the 2025 parks department workplan.