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The work starts now


St. Albert city councillors have officially signed off on a location for a future rec-centre, but we still have a long way to go before that vision is realized.

Councillors took the first step Monday by designating a 59-acre parcel of land on the northwest end of the city, donated by Rohit Land Development. The location is one of three the city was considering, and the least expensive to service according to city figures. The other sites were located in Erin Ridge, east of Costco and the Badger lands on Villeneuve Road in NW St. Albert where residents take their compost materials today. Landrex had offered to donate the Erin Ridge land and the city owns the Badger site.

All three had their merits and drawbacks, but ultimately the location itself was less important than the act of approving a site. With no money in the municipal budget and continued provincial belt-tightening, it could be years before we actually see progress on the facility. However, the approval of a site was an essential step for nonprofit Active Communities Alberta, which expressed its thanks in a Facebook post, calling Monday a "monumental day."

Active Communities Alberta has spent the past three years lobbying government and planning for a campus-style recreation site that could feature a variety of amenities from ice sheets to gym space. In mid-2018, they obtained conditional financial support of $20 million from council through a non-binding memorandum of understanding that hinged on securing funds from other levels of government.

Active Communities president Matt Bachewich has told the Gazette a street address is needed before any other level of government would buy in.

With this decision now in hand, the hope is that Active Communities and the St. Albert Soccer Association and its Field of Dreams project can move forward and bring the provincial and federal governments on side.

Unlike the Erin Ridge North option, the Rohit site won't fill a need for St. Albert Public Schools, which would prefer a northeast site for a new high school. Bellerose High School is just around the corner from the Rohit location. School sites are scarce in St. Albert, not to mention shovel-ready ones – a key criteria the province looks for when it doles out approvals for new schools.

The site's location provides some opportunities, as well. Council's decision puts the rec site closer to land included in the annexation negotiations with Sturgeon County. Its proximity to Ray Gibbon Drive – which is set to be twinned over the coming decade – could also be advantageous and could provide opportunities for collaboration with nearby municipalities on the future rec-centre, which will undoubtedly serve many areas beyond St. Albert's borders. This decision also should spur needed servicing and subsequent development west of Ray Gibbon.

As St. Albert continues discussing recreation collaboration with its neighbours, those opportunities may become vital to the future facility's success, easing the burden on St. Albert taxpayers if other municipalities agree to bear some of the costs. With the land decision made, the most important work begins now.