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Planning for rec site in city's west to centre on aquatics facility

A future recreation site in the city's west will include an aquatics facility at minimum following a survey where swimming ranked as the top indoor recreation activity in St. Albert.
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A map outlines the 59 acres of city-owned land (outlined in the white broken lines) where the city plans to build the future rec site. CITY OF ST. ALBERT/Photo

Planning for a future recreation site in St. Albert's west will centre around an aquatics facility, following a recent survey that pegged swimming as the city's number one indoor recreation activity. 

Open from February to mid-March, the survey gathered information on community recreation habits in St. Albert to help the city prioritize future recreation opportunities. The city will use the feedback to help plan a recreation centre in the west area, now known as the Cherót neighbourhood. The 59-acre parcel of land where the rec site will be sits between Range Road 260 and Ray Gibbon Drive, slightly below Villeneuve Road. 

Overall the city collected more than 1,800 survey responses. Sixty-seven per cent of respondents said they participated in indoor swimming, with 60 per cent saying they participate in the activity outdoors. Outdoor running and walking ranked as the most popular activity overall, however, with 79 per cent participation. 

Other top activities included cycling (53 per cent participation), fitness and gym-based activities (52 per cent), camping (48 per cent), playground play (43 per cent), and recreational skating (37 per cent). 

Susannah Wood, recreation and parks analyst with St. Albert, said the city’s existing infrastructure is not able to accommodate full community demand. Wood also highlighted the 2017 pool plebiscite, where 55.7 per cent of ballots supported further planning of additional aquatic space for Servus Place. 

Approximately 40 per cent of the total program participants in St. Albert’s indoor pools are non-residents, Wood said, but later clarified that overall facility use is “by far primarily St. Albert residents.”

“Regionally, there’s vocal support for further development of this amenity type,” Wood said. 

The cost recovery of standalone aquatics amenities are low, Wood added, with recovery typically falling between 30 and 50 per cent annually. Fountain Park Pool’s cost recovery, for example, came in at 47 per cent in 2020. 

“Indoor aquatics requires continued investment from a capital perspective so that it remains a part of our recreation amenity inventory,” Wood said. 

Mayor Cathy Heron said she appreciated how the survey has given a voice to members of the community who enjoy swimming in St. Albert. 

“I love the fact that it allowed for every member of the public to speak instead of just having your voice heard through a giant association,” Heron said. “That's what we've had in the past is these really strong advocacy groups.”

Amenity needs ranked 

The survey also tracked barriers to participation, including availability of activities and cost/affordability. 

Using the community feedback in combination with a philosophical and program assessment, administration updated the rankings of level of need for 39 different amenity types, 36 of which the city currently provides. 

Indoor competitive pools and indoor leisure pools both ranked as high-need, with 14 medium-high amenities, including but not limited to indoor arenas, community gymnasiums, and bike parks. 

Outdoor rinks rank lower

Medium-need amenities included 18 items, such as outdoor rinks, skate amenities, fitness studios, and cross-country ski trails. Five low-ranked amenities included outdoor fitness equipment, racquetball and squash courts, and beach volleyball courts. 

Outdoor refrigerated covered rinks also ranked in medium priority level. 

Heron asked whether council’s current motion to consider chipping in up to $1.5 million for an outdoor twin-rink facility proposed by Active Communities Alberta bumped up the ranking of outdoor refrigerated covered rinks. 

“I have never heard — except from Active Communities — a need for a covered refrigerated rink in St. Albert,” Heron said. 

Administration said they did factor the motion into the assessment. 

Amenities planning to centre need for pool

Now that city administration has gathered community feedback on recreation needs, Manda Wilde, interim recreation facility development and partnerships manager, said next steps will include a cost-benefit analysis. 

Wilde said the community amenities site is envisioned as a campus site, with the minimum level of development, including an aquatics facility. 

“This is the only identified high-need amenity and the need and demand for aquatics will only grow as the city progresses to meet its goal of 100,000 residents,” Wilde said. 

The minimum planning will also factor in site servicing, parking, internal roadways, trail access, and site landscaping. 

The city will also develop additional scenarios with further amenities and recreation opportunities, a process Wilde described as a “good, better, best,” approach. 

Wilde said the project team anticipates the scenarios will be completed by the end of this year, and subsequently brought to council for review and discussion. 

“It is important to really note that there is a lot of work ahead,” Wilde said of the amenities site. “But we're really excited to continue to progress this year and advance this important work. We'll take a mindful, measured, and step-wise approach that will allow us to make good decisions for future generations.”

Rachel Narvey

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