Eighteen years is a long time to spend in any job. But it doesn’t seem so long when you’re not stuck in an office all day.
“I really liked the idea that the job entails office and outside (work). It’s probably a 60/40 split,” says Lorne Middleton, Oak Bay’s manager of parks services.
“That was real appealing.”
Middleton, 55, is reflecting on his switch from being the maintenance supervisor for the Oak Bay Recreation Centre to taking the parks position in 1993. Friday (Feb. 24) is his last day on the job, as the longtime public servant is retiring after more than 36 years with the municipality.
During his time with the parks department, Middleton has overseen many improvements to Oak Bay’s green spaces.
Projects he’s particularly fond of include renovations to the Carnarvon Park water park and replacement of the Windsor Park pavilion, not to mention the native plant garden at the corner of Margate Avenue and Beach Drive.
“That was just a heap of mess, with a pond somewhere in that mess, back in the day,” he says.
But the changes aren’t limited to the cosmetic.
Since Middleton took over, the department has rid itself of 95 per cent of the above-ground pipes it once used for irrigation and moved to an underground system. Much of that network is also computerized, meaning it can be managed from the office and will notify parks staff when there are problems.
“That’s huge. It freed up a lot more time for staff to do more hands-on things than picking up pipes and laying them out,” Middleton says.
It has also led to major improvements in water conservation.
The benefits of that work are not lost on Oak Bay’s mayor.
“When you look at the state of our facilities, he is just one excellent parks manager,” Nils Jensen says. “You look at how he put together the scented garden (in Windsor Park) as a good example, and how his crew has maintained the rest of the park system. He really has made an incredible contribution to life in Oak Bay.”
Coun. Tara Ney, council’s liaison to the parks and recreation commission, sees Middleton as a community custodian.
“He’s taken care of Oak Bay,” she says. “He’s taken care of our lawns, our streetscapes. We get compliments about them incessantly.”
That would not be possible without a strong support staff, says Middleton. “A lot of the staff has been there a long time. There’s a good chunk of that whole parks and rec (department) that’s family. You don’t get that in a lot of places.”
But all good things must come to an end. And though it feels bittersweet, Middleton says he looks forward to the next chapter of his life. An avid NASCAR fan, he and his wife are taking a trip to Las Vegas next month to take in a Sprint Cup race. Beyond that, the future is wide open.
“I don’t know where the path is going to take me, but for the short term, I’m just going to have some time for Lorne.”