May 26th, 2024

Rec facility plan due this summer

By COLLIN GALLANT on March 14, 2023.

Heights Pool, seen in this October 2021 file photo, remains closed and will likely be left out of repair work outlined in an upcoming report on the future capital requirements for the parks and recreation department, a city committee heard today. The pool requires $2 million to install a new drainage system that currently empties into the city's storm sewer system, contrary to environmental regulations.--News file Photo

A detailed capital plan for recreation facilities could be completed in the summer, about 18 months after it was ordered by a city committee, which heard an update on Monday morning.

The “Facilities for the Future” report is an offshoot of the parks and recreation master plan that became a key issue in the 2021 municipal election.

Its purpose was to examine the relative capital and cost benefits of upgrading existing pools, rinks and recreation centres compared to combining facilities in new construction.

“There’s a range of approaches – nothing is set in stone (at this point),” James Will, director of the parks and recreation department, said at Monday’s meeting of the public services committee.

“We could go status quo, reinvest in existing facilities, reinvest in some, develop some modest replacement, decommission and replace several with a single facility.

“There’s a wide range that we’re going to be narrowing down for council.”

The report that was underway in late 2021 was reset in early 2022 after council restored interim operating funds and repair work at the Moose Recreation Centre and Crestwood Pool.

The new report, committee heard, could also consider folding in potential support for the Medicine Hat Curling Club, a privately owned and operated facility located on city land.

A joint evaluation by Curling Club and city officials states $7.9 million in upgrades are needed at the near 70-year-old building that still has its original ice slab.

It closed this winter, as brine-lines failed, and an overview will provide estimates of options, including a new curling club in a new arena project, likely a twin-rink or quadplex configuration, after two stand-alone rinks are closed.

Such amalgamation was suggested in mid-2021, as was proposed by administrators.

Mayor Linnsie Clark said she sees the city’s current philosophy moving toward maintaining existing facilities over large capital intensive projects.

“You should ensure what you have, rather than (always) thinking building new to replace it in 50 years, we should be maintaining what we have very well,” she told the committee.

“I’m not sure it aligns with Strong Towns (philosophy), so it’s a little bit risky to sprinkle words in and not follow the principles.”

Other committee members, Couns. Cassi Hider and Allison Knodel, said they might support new centralized facilities, but are awaiting the results of the report.

Will said there is a “a strong business case” to reduce operating expenses and the costs of upgrades by building a twin rink, even at a higher initial capital cost.

He says that is balanced against community values that can include a want for localized amenities. A public feedback process elicited 800 responses.

“There’s a strong affinity for indoor and outdoor pools located in residential areas, but we didn’t see the same need for ice facilities,” said Will. “Lots of people see rinks as a destination activity.

“It demonstrates people value recreation spaces.”

Will also said report authors will consider demand from market and the potential for large facilities to spur population growth.

By 2025, the demographics of the city will see the percentage of population almost double to 33 per cent, while combined share of the 20-64 age group and those young than 19 decreases by about 15 per cent.

“We want to be a sustainable city and when we look at 65-plus populations, that presents challenges to growing our neighbourhoods,” said Will.

In the city’s long-term capital, an estimated $50 million will be needed to maintain existing facilities at existing levels, but repairs are needed soon.

Other highlights of the presentation included the idea of an aquatic facility in the south of the city as a priority.

Generally, few needs are laid out for the Big Marble Go Centre – which is 23 years old, but saw major expansion in 2014 – or Echodale Regional Park, though improvements may be considered.

That park lost 140 trees in the July 2022 windstorm, said Will.

“We see the potential for a refresh.”

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