The government of Alberta, as part of its 2022-23 budget, has announced $3.5 million in funds for Active Communities Alberta’s proposed outdoor recreation facility and community hub in St. Albert.
The $6-million twin rink facility would operate year-round, providing a space for dry-court sports in the spring and summer. Planned for construction on land behind Paul Kane High School, the project has garnered more than $500,000 in community member contributions. During a Jan. 31 meeting, St. Albert city council passed a motion outlining conditions for Active Communities to meet before the city considers chipping in up to $1.5 million towards the project.
The conditions require Active Communities to raise a minimum of $3 million from other funding sources towards the project, and provide the city with two items: a public engagement report, and an independent financial review of the project business case, both funded by Active Communities.
Now, with an additional $3.5 million pledged from the provincial government, Active Communities has met one of council's requirements.
Matt Bachewich, president of Active Communities, said the non-profit is “very excited” about the $3.5 million in funding, adding that he appreciates support from the provincial government, particularly Morinville-St. Albert MLA Dale Nally.
“It’s a major milestone for our project,” Bachewich said. “Mr. Nally has been supportive right from the start, and it’s meant a lot. He sees the value for the community and the vision of a grassroots project like this, that’s going to benefit generations to come.”
In an email, Nally said he was "proud to lend my voice and advocacy in every way possible for the project.”
“Public facilities are the heart of our communities, encouraging community spirit and creating a space for neighbours to come together and build lasting relationships," Nally said in the email. "As the first project of its kind in Alberta and western Canada, we are bringing something truly unique to our city and the surrounding communities. With its central location to five schools and the main aquatics and track and field facilities, I have no doubt it will become a staple in St. Albert living."
Once Active Communities fulfills St. Albert's second condition — the public engagement report and independent financial review — council will have 60 days to consider the $1.5-million funding request.
Speaking Friday, Bachewich said Active Communities is currently collaborating with the city on the financial review and public engagement report, with a meeting scheduled for March. 1.
In January, Active Communities reached an agreement with St. Albert Public Schools to lease the land behind Paul Kane for a period of 35 years. In return, the non-profit would provide the division with exclusive access to the facility during school hours.
Kirsten Brown-Smith, a nearby Forest Lawn resident who voiced concerns about the project at council's Jan. 31 meeting, said Sunday that she is still unconvinced the location will best serve the community.
“My opposition isn’t to the project,” Brown-Smith said, noting she is happy to hear Active Communities received the additional $3.5-million commitment. “It’s to its location. Putting more amenities in the south of St. Albert isn’t fairly distributing services throughout the city.”
Brown-Smith said many in St. Albert’s north already travel to her neighbourhood to drop their children off at school, making the area crowded for her and her neighbours during school hours.
“If I’m taking a day off, I sometimes can’t get out of my driveway,” Brown-Smith said, noting that she and her neighbours tolerate the extra traffic because it’s mostly relegated to school hours.
With the rink open, Brown-Smith said the traffic rush will extend into evenings.
“The noise that we tolerate, and the parking problem, now will be never-ending,” Brown-smith said.
Brown-Smith argued that having the Active Communities facility in the north of the city would more fairly distribute services to neighbourhoods that need them, instead of exacerbating traffic issues. As Active Communities pursues public engagement, Brown-Smith said she hopes the voices from those outside the ice-skating community are considered extensively.
“That land right now is free to use for the entire city and community,” Brown-Smith said. “Taking all of that away … it makes me quite concerned.”
Support for facility
Karen Hach, a St. Albert resident with children in minor hockey, said she is pleased to hear that Active Communities has raised an additional $3.5 million.
“It’s great the province recognizes the need for this,” Hach said. “It can’t happen soon enough.”
Speaking Friday at noon, Hach said one of her children had hockey practice in Calahoo scheduled for later in the day, and then another practice at Garrison Arena. Hach said she is constantly driving around each week to make practice times at various locations.
“We’re driving all over the place to hockey practices when we don’t need to,” Hach said. “If we can get this extra rink here, that’ll be really, really helpful.”
Mayor Cathy Heron congratulated Active Communities in Feb. 24 news release.
“Achieving this financial goal is one of the many steps required in moving this project forward,” Heron said in the release. “I look forward to continuing to collaborate with Active Communities throughout this process.”