The little club with a big vision
Small group close to realizing dream of building new Rotary Park
By: Susan Jones
| Posted: Saturday, Mar 16, 2013 06:00 am
There's not much to see yet at Rotary Park. There are no picnic tables, no swings and of course there’s a half metre of snow covering the firepits and trails.
But the members of the Saint City Rotary Club, who gathered there Tuesday to point out where the park boundaries are located, can visualize it all. In their minds, these men and women can see the playground that will be in place by May. They can imagine and almost hear the voices of the children playing and they can sense the presence of the multitudes of St. Albert families who, for many generations to come, will picnic and play here.
After all, these Rotarians have been planning and imagining this park for eight years and now the park is so close to reality they can almost feel and smell the grass growing beneath the layers of snow.
“It’s so exciting to see it coming together,” said club president Bart Paterson. “We wanted to build it because we always believed in the future of St. Albert and this will be a place where kids can kick a ball, where there are fields to run and places for families to gather.”
The Rotary Club of St. Albert – Saint City is the smaller of the two local clubs, with a membership at present of just 13. The club is younger too, because it was only chartered in 2000.
In 2005 the members decided they wanted to build a Rotary Park that might be similar to other parks they’d seen throughout Alberta. As they saw it then, it would be a place not just for local families but also for visitors. The location they proposed near the Big Lake Environment Support Society shelter and adjacent to the Red Willow Trail system, seemed perfect for what they had in mind but the members soon realized their vision wouldn’t be easy to build.
“We had this grand idea to build the park and have it ready for the Rotary International Centennial in 2006. That didn’t happen, but we kept slogging along,” said park committee co-chairman Ross Algar, who has worked on the project from the start.
The club members set about getting funding from other sources to help them build Rotary Park. Those funds now include a $100,000 grant from the City of St. Albert as well as another $125,000 grant from the Province of Alberta. By the time the project is complete, the Saint City Rotarians expect to contribute $75,000 to the park and earlier this month the members received a donation of $60,000 from their sister club, the St. Albert Rotary Club.
“Those funds came from our Legacy Fund, which we give to local charities. Previously we gave funds to the St. Albert train station and to the building of the new food bank. We had money left over from that and we wanted to help the smaller club in this development,” said St. Albert Rotary Club president Robert Gallant.
Getting the necessary funds in place was just part of the job, however, because back when the Rotarians first wanted to build the park, Ray Gibbon Drive had not been built. Also, environmental studies had still not been completed to show potential problems from the old landfill that sits under much of the area.
“We (the Saint City Rotary Club) were the cart in front of the horse and everything got delayed because of the need for proper development of a park over an old landfill,” said Trevor Zahara.
Zahara, who was a club member for a time, is also the owner of Peak Play Environments, and his firm is constructing the playground portion of Rotary Park. Though he stepped back from club membership because he was concerned about conflict of issue problems, and is no longer a Rotarian, he continues to serve on the park committee.
“The project to build the park was larger than anyone anticipated. There was so much uncertainty about how stable a park would be over a landfill and the solution was to put in place a one metre-deep clay park over the entire area so that potential methane leaks would be contained,” Zahara explained.
At first the clay-cap and methane problems seemed overwhelming for the Rotarians, he added.
“In the end the result is an enhanced park. It was a massive project and we got swept up in it, but it also meant everyone, including the other nearby clubs such as the rugby club and the soccer club all pulled together,” he said.
On Tuesday several Saint City Rotarians stood in the snow and pointed to the trees they planted last fall to mark the perimeter of their Rotary Park, but they know their work is still not finished. Now, armed with the $60,000 donation from their sister club, they can move forward with building a new state-of-the-art playground that will include cubes for climbing and a wonderful multi-child see-saw for children to bounce on. The entire playground, including the climbing toys, will be wheelchair accessible.
The Rotarians new goal is to have a weekend build, sometime in May, to complete the playground portion. By the end of the summer, they hope the picnic tables will all be finished.
“They never wavered,” said Gallant, who couldn’t help but admire the “never quit” attitude of the Saint City Rotary Club members.
“They have a membership of 13; we have a membership of 50-60. But they were tenacious. Our club is so proud of their accomplishment because they did this for the community and to me that’s the true embodiment of the Rotary motto of service above self,” Gallant said. “Once that park is completed, when it’s all done and people see the new landscape, they will see a little gem.”