Behind the buzz on capital spending

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When voters in St. Albert cast their ballots on Oct. 16, they will face three questions gauging their support for further planning of a branch library, ice sheet and aquatics expansion.

The three projects appear in the 2017-2026 Municipal Growth Capital Plan, more commonly known as the 10-year capital plan, and the current council has discussed the possibility of building all three in the next four years.

That capital plan was approved by city council on Dec. 12, 2016 and includes $17.5 million in spending this year for a community branch library; a sixth arena ice surface, which would receive $1.8 million in funding in 2018 and $17.9 million the following year; and an aquatics expansion, which would receive $1.1 million in 2018 and $12.1 million in 2019.

Those aren’t the only big-ticket facilities in the capital plan, though. Council agreed to put $13.5 million toward the reconstruction of a fire station; $51 million toward a new civic building; $11.6 million toward a museum expansion; $14 million toward an entirely new fire station; $14.6 million toward an indoor sport field; and $16.5 million for an indoor pool and water park.

However, the three facilities in question are all meant to be built within the next four years, making them more pressing issues than the other projects.

Repeating history

This isn’t the first time these three projects have become election issues.

In the 2015 byelection, the St. Albert Public Library Board and the St. Albert Minor Hockey Association surveyed candidates about a new library branch and a solution to the ice rink shortage.

And before that, in 2013, the library board held a similar survey of candidates on the branch library.

Branch library

Advocacy for a library expansion dates back decades. During the election of 1980, the library ran an advertisement in the Gazette seeking support for a larger space.

More recently, in 2007 city staff started looking into possible locations for a branch library, including potentially partnering with Sturgeon County or school boards for the project. According to a history compiled by the city, the council at the time decided to add the library to a list of potential land uses for the Badger Lands area.

In late 2015, council decided to fund the branch library with $100,000 in 2016, $2 million in 2017 and $15 million in 2018.

The following year, council funded a survey on capital project support for up to $30,000. There were 466 respondents and 39 per cent said the branch library was highly important, but support for a tax increase was not high.

In November 2016, councillors agreed to fund $17.5 million through debt servicing for the library. City staff began preparing a borrowing bylaw, which passed through council in mid-2017.

Ice sheet

When the St. Albert Minor Hockey Association surveyed candidates in 2015, the survey came on the heels of St. Albert losing the chance for a new senior men’s team due to lack of playoff ice time.

At the time, board secretary Joe Becigneul said the organization spent more than half a million dollars each year on ice time outside St. Albert.

In November 2015, city council agreed to include a new ice surface in its 10-year capital plan, with funding planned for 2016, 2017 and 2018.

But the ice rink came last on a list of resident priorities from the 2016 capital project survey, with just 29 per cent of 466 respondents rating it as highly important.

Aquatics expansion

A proposed aquatics expansion received 34 per cent support in that survey, putting it above the ice sheet.

The survey came after council devoted $25,000 to examining the cost of adding a pool at Servus Place to help with overwhelming demand for pool space.

In September 2016, city staff presented a report on the proposed aquatic expansion and council directed them to draw up a project charter to be considered in Budget 2018.

The project was brought forward to the 2017 budget and in November received funding for 2018 and 2019.

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