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LETTER: Halting the St. Albert rec facility – the alternative is?

"With 95 per cent of the detailed work done, the halt decision was a surprise. Another study not needed. "

Thanks for the leadership of St. Albert Councillors Jacquie Hansen, Ken MacKay and Ray Watkins who voted in favour of the well thought out, financially sound and low risk Active Communities Alberta (ACA) non-profit partnership to get going on more recreational facilities for St. Albert.  

Four years of review. St. Albert residents could be skating and playing pickleball in a new regional recreational complex in South St. Albert if council and admin had picked ACA four years ago, maybe even two years ago. There would have been four skating surfaces, the field house and other needed services in operations shared with the City of Edmonton on property just off the Henday for $20M. Federal and provincial funding had been identified. Same ask of $20M with matching funds required. Phase 2 expansion could have included other needs like aquatics. An operational St. Albert community rec centre in 2020.  

Current council and city admin had years of study, presentations and discussion with regional partners, community stakeholders and citizens on what is needed in St. Albert. Depending on the year and the consultant survey, the priorities change (ice, soccer, library, pool) but the overall need screams for action. The city has been engaged in detailed discussions with ACA since council passed a motion in favour of proceeding with a joint agreement in 2018. This was followed up with an independent value for money report that found the financial model fundamentally sound. The ACA non-profit approach has been successful in many Alberta cities for decades. For reasons unknown, Mayor Heron, Councillors Joly, Brodhead and Hughes suggested yet another conceptual plan and another RFP should be done.

Financing? The financing arrangement would give St. Albert taxpayers double the value for their money. St. Albert would commit $20M if, and only if, ACA secured an additional $20M in order for the project to proceed. If ACA gets the feds/province/others to fund, then St. Albert gets a $40-million facility for $20 million. If not, St. Albert contributes nothing to the project. Choice of somebody else is finding me money and reducing my costs or city admin funding it on the backs of St. Albert taxpayers. I know what I would choose. Say as part of the COVID recovery program a fed/prov infrastructure program happens and is looking for “shovel ready” projects to fund. With ACA, we are ready, without them St Albert is not. Let the passionate folks at ACA go after funding while the city continues to study.   

Meeting the needs of the community? The ACA partnership addresses almost all of the top 10 recreational needs in the St. Albert Recreation Plan plus adds additional community facilities. No pool in phase 1 of the project? Let the city admin and aquatics co-ordinator look at “hockey and ringette like travel options” like the pool at CFB Edmonton. According to CFB management, the CFB pool is barely utilized during the evenings and could be a good short-term option. Pools are the most expensive facility to operate. Phase 2 for the pool seems reasonable until we are in a better position financially. Servus Place added pool as Phase 2 – it's been done before.

So, council’s decision is to not proceed with the non-profit ACA and instead continue to study and then have the city fund using the old model? The city’s plan, on hold for many years, is significant capital and operating cost addition to Servus Place with less facilities and more operating cost.

In my opinion, I would like to see council move strongly to satisfy the majority of the high priority needs through the cost-effective ACA partnership for Phase 1 at half the capital cost and with ACA assuming the operating costs as proposed. Pushing a solution through partnership off to 2022, meaning facilities in 2024 at earliest, is something that needs to be corrected in 2020.  

With 95 per cent of the detailed work done, the halt decision was a surprise. Another study not needed. 

Bob Fisher, St. Albert