Active Communities Alberta's (ACA) vision to bring a $42-million sports campus to St. Albert saw a major step forward on Monday.
Council voted 6-1 (Coun. Natalie Joly opposed) in favour of pursuing a value for money (VFM) assessment up to a maximum of $30,000. An original motion from 2018 put up to $10,000 toward the study, but the VFM is now seeing bids between $27,500 and $75,000.
The city agreed to sign a nonbinding memorandum of understanding (MOU) with ACA in 2018 to contribute up to $20 million to this project, contingent on several conditions including completion of this study. Another $10 million in funding would come from each of the provincial and federal governments.
At the time, the city decided to wait to hire an independent consultant until a site had been selected to house the future recreation facility. In February, city council zeroed in on a location, accepting a 59-acre land donation from Rohit Land Development, north of the Lakeview Business District.
Plans shown at an open house in February portrayed a facility with 20,000 square feet of gym space, office and retail room, and two arenas.
Scrap it or pay more?
City administration didn't carry forward the original $10,000 for the assessment as a line item in the 2020 budget – an oversight that prompted Joly to bring forward a motion June 30 to allocate a maximum of $30,000 from the city's $1.34-million stabilization fund for an outside consultant."Right now the city has two big priorities in terms of recreation – that's aquatics and ice," Joly said.
"We've heard from our residents that those are two big priorities, and moving forward with this project, or even investing the $30,000 in this project, would be a signal that we're dropping aquatics off that priority list and I'm not prepared to do that right now."
If the first piece of the motion had failed, a second piece would have called a vote for the 2018 MOU agreement to be rescinded.
The second piece was more of a housekeeping item, Joly wrote in an email to the Gazette. If council decided there wasn't any money to pay for the VFM, then it wouldn't be fair to keep the 2018 motion hanging without any funding to implement it, she wrote.
On Monday, eight people presented to council in support of the city spending a bit more cash for a value for money assessment, including St. Albert Raiders president Kevin Porter and director Gill Hermanns, and St. Albert Minor Hockey Association team manager Christa Huberdeau.
All described a growing need for ice rinks in St. Albert, as families find themselves having to travel outside city limits to find space.
"You'll even see teams chew up all the outdoor ice just because of the lack of indoor ice we have," Huberdeau said.
ACA president Matt Bachewich also presented to council and said he expected the city to keep its prior commitments.
"The funding was in place, arrangements were made, and we expect the commitments made by council and administration to be upheld," he said.
Bachewich said ACA's board wasn't sure if they wanted to take on the financial strain of subsidizing another pool facility at this point in time. However, a pool could be a "great candidate" for the second phase of the facility.
"The Clairview Recreation Centre in Edmonton started off with twin rinks, meeting rooms and other community amenities and then they added on with a pool facility and other components," Bachewich said.
"We'd love to have all these facilities built at the same time ... but we need to balance that against the current climate and economic situation."
'Need a different model'
Coun. Jacquie Hansen, who brought forward the original 2018 MOU motion, said ACA has been patient with the city on this agreement, and believed the city should uphold its end of the bargain.
"It must be said that Active Communities cannot formally apply for federal and provincial funding until these said conditions are completed. We created those conditions, so essentially, we've been the barrier for them to move fully ahead," she said.
"Maybe we should ask ourselves, 'What is the cost of not considering this?' The city can't afford to build a rec centre on the backs of taxpayers, especially post COVID-19. We need a different model."
Coun. Sheena Hughes said doing a VFM, even at a higher cost, would give the city concrete answers as to whether or not to move forward on ACA's proposal. Spending $30,000 isn't a small allocation, but knowledge gained from the assessment could save the city "millions," she said.
"We need to know how much risk we're taking on, so I think it's prudent we do this to determine whether this is a feasible option or not."