It didn't take a feasibility study, or city administration's capital prioritization matrix, to help most of council see that a $1.5-million investment in Active Communities' twin-rink facility is a good deal.
Though Monday's decision to approve the cash from the city's capital reserve came with much pushback — both from administration and two council members (Mayor Cathy Heron and Coun. Natalie Joly) — the rest of council could clearly see the benefit of kicking in $1.5 million for a $6-million facility the city does not have to fork out more dollars to run.
The facility, which may be open as early as October 2023, according to Active Communities' president Matt Bachewich, will offer a refrigerated area to be used for ice sports in the winter, and a pad for dry-court sports for the rest of the year. It will be located on land behind Paul Kane High School.
The nonprofit overseeing the project still must raise less than half a million dollars to reach the $6-million mark. Daniele Podlubny, the city's interim director of recreation and parks, said despite the group's business case — MNP's review of which was found to be "reasonable, comprehensive, and conservative," — rapidly rising construction costs create much uncertainty around the facility's final price tag.
Certainly, this is a challenge Active Communities must bear, and not the city.
Podlubny, surprisingly, also flagged the project's banner as a "first of its kind in Alberta," in its viability as a privately-operated entity, as a negative.
But Coun. Mike Killick was quick to defend the project as an opportunity to support something new.
Coun. Wes Brodhead also voiced his support, saying the "unique opportunity" for a relatively minimal spend on the city's part make it a compelling model for St. Albert to attempt, saying, "at the end of the day, we're getting the $6-million facility here that we are not operating — no ongoing operational costs to the taxpayer."
Indeed, if the model proves successful, it could solve many of the repair, maintenance, and replacement (RMR) challenges municipalities all over the province regularly face, especially with large-ticket, multi-use facilities that, on top of their significant upfront costs, become cash drags over time, both in their maintenance and operation.
A solution to the city's RMR woes is certainly worth a try. Isn't it? Especially on land offered up by the St. Albert Public School Board, and not the city — at even less risk to taxpayers.
If it works, it's a concept St. Albert can then explore by considering contracting out its rec facilities to nonprofits, something Calgary is already successfully doing.
True, it's as much an investment as it is an experiment, but our city's growing financial challenges will only get worse without some innovation on council's, and administration's, part.
Editorials are the consensus view of the St. Albert Gazette’s editorial board.