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Rec centre portion of Northside will be built, on hold for now for a review

  • design is now on hold while staff conduct a scope review, taking into account community feedback

  • Phase 2 is still on the books for 2017 as an unfunded project

  • Phase 1, the twin arenas portion, will be built as a stand-alone project and construction can now continue without delay

The recreation centre portion of the Northside Multi-Use Facility will be built, eventually, now that council has approved keeping the project on the books for 2017 while reviewing exactly which parts of the centre will be included.

Council approved an amended motion which went against the recommendation from staff and the Sustainable Development Committee to halt and cancel the design of the facility’s second phase. The amended motion, approved 8-1, was that the Northside Multi-Use Phase 2 capital project be put on hold and that administration will be tasked with doing a scope review of the project and come back to council with recommendations for design.

Those recommendations will take into consideration the feedback from community members and Mayor and council at Tuesday night’s meeting, including that the community does have a need for the facility but that it should not take patrons away from MacDonald Island or compete with private sector initiatives. Councillor Allan Vinni said specifically the centre need not include a bowling alley or space for a movie theatre since both are on the cusp of being built in Fort McMurray. Vinni said all the private companies are waiting for is convincing reassurance the municipality isn’t about to enter the business of running either.

Community feedback

There were several delegations speaking to the recommendation Tuesday night including Justin Ellis who said the project would be a way to encourage the shadow population to settle in Fort McMurray permanently. He also said now is an optimal time to move ahead with the project considering low cost of borrowing and of labour and the opportunity to diversify the local economy.

Mike Durocher argued that building the facility now would allow council to get ahead of the probable demand based on growth should the price of oil rebound.

“If you think oil is done don’t build it,” he said.

Another resident argued the community is young and in need of a facility closer to home where families can spend time year-round. Mayor Melissa Blake asked him if he would consider paying a levy on his taxes, in the area of $100, to help fund the facility. He agreed as did Ellis who voiced his approval of such a concept from the gallery seats at council.

Such community feedback made it clear to council the centre is still needed in order to serve some of the needs of the community. Council debated whether the facility really does need everything originally called for, including an aquatics facility, fitness centre, a bowling alley, a multi-use facility, a library branch, child minding, a skate park, a lease space, food services, retail, administrative space and a space for maintenance.

Council debate

The aquatics centre was another area for heated conversation because there are concerns building another pool will take patrons away from MacDonald Island which is already under-utilized during both peak and off-peak hours, though staff said the peak hours were very well used. There is also concern, however, that if the Thickwood YMCA closes there wouldn’t be sufficient capacity at MacDonald Island for all the peak-hour swimmers. So, council agreed the size and type of swimming pool should be part of the scope review of the project.

Mayor Blake said council couldn’t simply strike the bowling alley and movie theatre portions and approve the project because there are nuances to the potential scope change, like the aquatics centre, that require a review of existing facilities, current needs, current use of existing facilities, current projected growth and other areas. That is why council approved the review that will now be undertaken by administration.

Another issue was raised by Councillor Lance Bussieres which was that council doesn’t know what the cost of maintenance will be for the facilities, which he argued should be part of the decision making process.

The community is fortunate for what it has here and that industry picks up much of the tab, Bussieres said, but he argued that may not continue and that council should have an understanding of its full commitment before making a decision. He said most recreation complexes in the municipality receive operational grants which is something council should be able to consider before approving a project.

Deputy CAO Kevin Scoble was able to confirm that maintenance for the twin arenas portion of the project is forecast at $134 million over 40 years but said he did not have those figures for Phase 2 which is only 30 per cent designed at this point.

Other recommendations

Council also voted to keep Phase 2 of the projects on the books for 2017 in the unfunded column which essentially allows them to continue planning for the project when they do lift the halt now placed on design.

The twin arenas part of the plan will be built immediately. Council voted to approve that project as a stand-alone one which will cost $30 million because it will no longer be immediately attached to the second phase which carries additional building costs.