September 25th, 2021

New multi-plex centres better than maintaining old ones, city report says

By COLLIN GALLANT on September 15, 2021.

A city report is suggesting new multi-purpose recreation facilities should be built in Medicine Hat instead of maintaining current facilities, which is expected to collectively cost $42 million over the next 50 years.--NEWS FILE PHOTO

cgallant@medicinehatnews.com@CollinGallant

A near complete report on how to best deal with aging rec centres throughout Medicine Hat leans heavily toward building new, amalgamated facilities.

The study, commissioned by council last spring after a pool, arena and fitness centre were left closed when pandemic restrictions lifted, didn’t make a final recommendation.

A final draft will suggest three strategies for council to consider this month, then approve ahead of the incoming council picking up the issue before next year.

“We looked at a high level at how to serve the community’s needs for the next five decades,” said managing director of public services Brian Mastel. “It could be called bold and aspirational, but it’s the right time to for the community to consider it.”

It also suggests new planning to create a regional tourism destination at Echo Dale Regional Park, complete with amphitheatre and high-end “glamping” and serviced campsite, as well as seeking community or private-sector partnerships to run city facilities.

Committee members discussed the presentation by parks director James Will for about an hour. It is the latest in a series of updates to the committee since public consultations began in July.

Will said some feedback was contradictory, namely that residents wanted to keep neighbourhood facilities but often define those as parks, not pools or rinks, which the city now considers to be “destination” points.

Operational efficiencies and the potential grants for new builds make the idea attractive, said Will.

Committee chair Coun. Julie Friesen says she was “leaning toward a replacement option, but in a phased approach…

“Will we need all this tomorrow?” she asked. “Probably not. We won’t have the financing in place tomorrow in any case.”

Committee member Coun. Kris Samraj says he sees both sides, but says the bigger question is making either program work with limited financial room.

“In some ways it’s good there’s an election, because this is big issue,” he said.

Samraj also said administrators and council had a tendency “to over sell” new projects as solutions, and specifically cited Co-op Place, which was supposed to have comparable or lower operating costs than the Medicine Hat Arena.

“That facility has missed its financial targets by $1 million every year, which is probably more than the combined operating budgets of the facilities we’re talking about here.”

A financial analysis done apart from public consultation states that over the next 50 years the current rec facilities will require $42 million in spending to maintain, including up to $10 million in the next five to seven years.

No cost estimate is given of building a multi-plex arena, new fitness facility or pools, or potential locations.

Heights Pool would require drainage work before reopening (no estimate was provided) and the Moose Rec Centre needs a new ice slab ($1.2 million).

That arena work, first scheduled for 2018, was paused at that time then cancelled this year as financing room was moved to the city’s share of federal and provincial COVID stimulus projects.

The Crestwood Rec Centre will need $7.5 million in mechanical and structural work in the next five to seven years.

Moving ahead with those renovations, said Will, would only maintain current operations and not add anything new at the same time he says residents’ expectations are changing.

“Much of this is front loaded (spending),” said Will. “There are some decisions that need to be made immediately or in the next few years.”

Coun. Phil Turnbull attended the meeting as a non-member, as says the plan is an important starting point that can be altered as time goes by.

“People think this was started to close down buildings,” he said. “But it’s a plan to develop our services for the next 50 years.”

No location is outlined for a potential multiplex arenas.

The study also states plans should consider needs of the Medicine Hat Curling Club, the downtown YMCA and South Ridge YMCA, which is owned by the city but operated by the YMCA.

That location would have space for a five-lap lap pool, said Will, but not a wave-pool or other aquatics that the community might expect.

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