Fourth multi-sport complex comes to council

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Yet another user-group has approached council about the construction of a multi-sport complex.

On Monday, council was asked to support in principle a proposal for multi-million dollar facility intended to house two arenas, a multi-purpose gymnasium and community group space. The model, proposed by Active Communities Alberta, would cost the city nothing to operate and less than a fourth arena at Servus Place to build, according to president Matt Bachewich.

This is the third user-group to advocate for a multi-use rec facility in recent years. In March, council agreed to enter into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the St. Albert Soccer Association and the City of Edmonton to explore the possibility of building an indoor fieldhouse south of St. Albert.

Active Communities Alberta’s interest caused council to hit pause on entering into a much-anticipated agreement with Dynamyx Gymnastics Club.

An MOU on joint gymnastics planning was scheduled to be debated on June 12, but was postponed in order for administration to look into possible synergies between the three projects.

“There are a number of balls in the air. We’re up to four different types of facilities,” said city manager Kevin Scoble, referencing the proposed city-owned aquatics and arena. “I think everything needs to be looked at together to see if there are combinations and efficiencies.”

Dynamyx has been asking for council support a new gymnastics facility for the past five years. The current building is overcrowded and costly to maintain and the not-for-profit cannot afford to front the cost of constructing a new one.

The club’s latest proposal is for a multi-purpose, city-owned and operated complex designed mainly to house a new gymnastics facility, modelled off a newly opened rec centre in Spruce Grove. Club president Cathy Schwer was hoping Monday’s meeting would have led to the creation of an MOU.

While this did not happen, members of council repeatedly expressed support for gymnastics to be added to the Recreation Master Plan, in order to facilitate these types of discussions.

“We just really wanted to sit down and have conversations and we haven’t had that opportunity, so I’m hoping that with this motion we’ll be able to engage with administration,” said Schwer.

Unlike the Dynamyx facility, the Active Communities Alberta multi-sport complex would be owned and operated by the not-for-profit.

“Essentially our pitch is to address long overdue recreation needs for multiple sports, while reducing the burden on taxpayers,” Bachewich told the Gazette.

During Monday’s meeting, Bachewich told council that 59 per cent of St. Albert Minor Hockey practice hours occur outside of St. Albert and that the ice shortage will only get worse, given most arenas in the capital region are approaching the end of their lifecycles.

A recently released State of Recreation and Parks report also revealed a shortage of school gymnasium space, used for activities such as volleyball and basketball.

For less than the cost of adding a fourth arena to Servus Place (estimated to cost $19 million), Bachewich told council it could build a multi-sport complex to address both needs. The proposed model would also save the city between $338,000 and $563,000 in operational costs.

Historically, St. Albert has taken the approach of supporting city-owned and operated recreation facilities only. The city tried to buck this trend with the introduction of the Capital Partnership Program, but the program was folded without approving any projects.

The Active Communities Alberta project goes against the grain of the city’s current recreation delivery model – a direction at least one councillor believes is worth exploring.

“I think the model of being wholly owned and operated by the City of St. Albert needs to be examined to see if that’s still the way we want to go with providing rec services in our community,” said Coun. Wes Brodhead.

Active Communities Alberta is looking for between $12 million and $19 million in capital funding from the city, as well as in-kind donation of land, estimated to cost $3 million to $5 million.

The rest of the estimated $33 million to $40 million project would be funded through a combination of provincial and federal grants ($10 million), direct funding ($3 million) and a loan from City of St. Albert of between $3 million to $6 million.

Bachewich told council that adding a 23,000 square-foot gymnastics facility to the plan would cost between $3 million to $5 million to build.

Administration will return with a report to council in August on possible synergies between both projects, as well as the soccer association’s indoor fieldhouse.

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Michelle Ferguson