February 21st, 2024

Council votes to keep rec centres open in 2022

By COLLIN GALLANT on December 21, 2021.

Coun. Alison Van Dyke (centre) discusses a matter with city clerk Angela Cruickshank while Mayor Linnsie Clark looks on prior to Monday's city council meeting at city hall.--News Photo Collin Gallant

cgallant@medicinehatnews.com@CollinGallant

Council voted Monday in favour of reopening two recreation centres in 2022, but signalled that potentially replacing the facilities will be on the table in a greater review due in January.

The potentially permanent closure of the Moose Recreation Centre arena and Crestwood pool and fitness centre – both left closed after the most strict COVID health measures lifted in 2020 – was a key election issue.

On Monday night, councillors voted 9-0 to add $900,000 in reserve spending to the 2022 city budget to operate them next year, as well as move ahead with a $1.2-million ice slab replacement.

“I’m very happy because that’s what the community called for,” said Mayor Linnsie Clark, who campaigned on a slowdown on planning to build regional, multi-use centres to replace aging facilities.

“It’s still about doing the long-term planning, but, especially with Crestwood, it will take time to have the plan in place, and in the meantime, residents can be using that facility.”

A schedule for opening the pool would be determined early in the new year, said administrators, who previously stated that construction at the Moose would delay opening it until next fall.

According to background provided by administrators, the operating impact of reopening the recreation centres would cost $900,000 total to be paid for out of an operational reserve account.

Money to complete a new planning study of the city centre totalling $250,000 was approved on Dec. 6, and on Monday $250,000 was added for “council resources” they say will aid in lobbying other levels of government.

That $1.4-million total, plus capital cost, would be paid out of reserves, meaning no change to an initial plan to find $7.5 million in revenue with a 2.5 per cent tax increase, $2.5 million in cost reductions and $2.5 million in general reserve cash. The package passed by a 9-0 vote.

Council members, many of whom had been elected to office in late October, had twice sent the budget update back while requesting more information.

The rink and pool closures were described as temporary in late 2020 when they remained closed after the most strict health measures from the initial stages of the pandemic passed. Officials said increased costs to comply wouldn’t be worth it considering low demand at other city facilities, and keeping them closed was a key point in major budget reductions in 2021.

Coun. Ramona Robins said she considered the decision to reopen as short term, and further outlook will be determined after a complete recreation master plan is brought forward in January.

“For 2022, it’s the right thing to do,” Robins said. “We’ve heard that five years is our best estimate (before major repairs are needed at Crestwood) and also that not enough people are using it.

“It’s a message to the community that they need to use it and use it in different ways.”

Administrators have said the Crestwood Rec Centre will need $7 million in repairs in about 2027, while the Moose arena would need $1.2 million in immediate work.

Robbins said the building and ice plant were in good condition, though the lines under the slab and slab itself needs to be replaced.

Currently, she said, local hockey teams are finding ice time in Redcliff and Irvine, and parents are complaining about a lack of space in swim classes.

Coun. Darren Hirsch, who lobbied for the rec study last term, said Monday “we really should be utilizing the facilities until they fail.”

But, he added, the slate of amendments totalled $1.4 million, and ongoing funding might require a 2 per cent tax increase.

“We did a lot of heavy lifting last term on expenses, so eyes-wide-open for this council,” he said.

Coun. Shila Sharps criticized how the issue was handled by administrators last year.

“I understand why we closed them during COVID but I think it’s time to reopen them,” she said. “Before we close facilities, we need to a have a plan to replace them.”

Coun. Robert Dumanowski said the closures were the best decision at the time as the city faced heavy losses and the pandemic changed usage.

“My commitment during the election was that I would respect what the public brought forward, and we haven’t heard that in the form of a report,” he said.

“The budget is not bottomless and we have to resolve that. But I’m sympathetic though, and will support this.”

Council members had originally voted on Nov. 15 to send the budget over to the following meeting while requesting more information from administrators about cost cutting that had occurred during 2021, workforce changes and how the forecasting for the city’s Invest office was done.

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