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EDITORIAL: New ACA proposal worth a look

"In a sense, it’s "back to the future" for residents who predate the demolition of our beloved rink shacks in the early '90s."
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In the heart of Alberta's deep freeze, the 40 players who took part in the World's Longest Hockey Game just outside of Sherwood Park last week probably had the same thought running through their minds as the rest of us did: "Whew, it's cold!"

Indeed, it was a bad week to be outside. In St. Albert, there weren't a whole lot of people hitting the walking trails, parks or rinks as temperatures plummeted into the minus 40s with wind chill. Many were probably wishing for indoor ice rinks and other facilities to be open so they could get out with their families without actually spending time outdoors.

It was surprisingly good timing, in the midst of that blistering cold, for Active Communities Alberta (ACA) to unveil its latest proposal for a recreation facility in the city. Much downsized from the enormous $42-million facility it had proposed originally, this one would feature covered outdoor rinks with refrigerated ice to extend use into the shoulder seasons. The facility would then be transformed in summer to host sports like pickleball and lacrosse. It would include a place to put on your skates and warm up – essential given mid-winter weather like we've been experiencing.

In a sense, it’s "back to the future" for residents who predate the demolition of our beloved rink shacks in the early '90s. The facility would have two concrete pads for arena ice or dryland sports. Dressing rooms, staffing and a Zamboni to resurface the ice are all planned for the site. And if ACA gets its way, the facility could be up and running by autumn.

It appears to be a project of merit and worthy of consideration. ACA persevered for years to secure a memorandum with the city on its previous proposal, and then went back to the drawing board to brainstorm a more palatable project after that memorandum was rescinded in November.

Affordable rinks of a similar nature have gone up in other areas. Toronto, though a different climate from Alberta, has dozens of them. The first, opened in 2013, cost the city $3.4 million.

Though ACA president Matt Bachewich didn't say exactly what this particular proposal would cost, he noted ACA's slimmed-down project will depend on how much money the organization can raise to start with. They're already at the $500,000 mark. Also attractive is the fact the non-profit would run this facility on a self-sustaining basis, meaning taxpayers wouldn't be on the hook for operating costs.

The city has investigated opening its own refrigerated ice surface at Larose Park in the past, a project that didn't proceed only because residents around the park worried about parking, traffic, noise and the loss of an off-leash area for dogs. That concern wouldn't affect ACA's proposal, if it's located in an appropriate area. The obvious downside of this proposal is its lack of pool space, which residents voted strongly in favour of during the last municipal election. Still, there is an established need for ice space in St. Albert, and growing demand for summer sports such as pickleball, which could take place without the threat of rain.

As Coun. Jacquie Hansen told the Gazette last week, the devil is in the details with a proposal like this one. But the prospect of increasing our recreation options with a facility that could be used year-round, at what appears to be a significantly more affordable cost than the last proposed facility, deserves serious consideration.