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Council committee approves changes to long-term capital plan

Committee of the whole approves addition of $1.4M expansion of city's municipal area fibre network to list of major capital projects

Topics as varied as St. Albert's fibre network and a possible expansion of the Servus Place fitness area were up for discussion during the April 9 committee of the whole meeting.

The committee gave administration the green light to add a $1.4 million expansion of the city's municipal area fibre network to the long-term capital projects plan.

The 10-year capital growth plan is a planning document that lists all of the city's upcoming major projects solely designed to accommodate community growth. Each year, depending on available funding, administration includes projects from the growth plan to annual budgets for council's consideration.

Suzanne Findlay, a city manager of financial services, told the committee that the city's fibre network “provides secure and unlimited communication between city facilities.”

Expanding the network, which is now slated to happen in 2025, has been deemed necessary to ensure the city's communication technology, specifically in the north part of the city, doesn't fail.

“To build resiliency, redundant paths are required so that if one side of the ring is broken, communication can continue uninterrupted on the other side,” Findlay said. “Funding for [the network] has has been provided in 2022, 2023 and 2024 to create redundant rings to connect city facilities, but this project focuses on secondary redundant fibre connections for Fire Hall 4, and both primary and secondary fibre network connections to city utilities facilities and the northeast servicing area.”

“The funds are required as, while construction projects for new facilities include a primary [municipal area network] connection to the nearest point within the network, they do not include redundant connections.”

Prior to voting, Coun. Mike Killick questioned if budgeting for the $1.4 million expansion in one year was a realistic plan, to which the city's senior manager of information technology, Joanne Graham, said administration isn't sure yet.

“Much of it is going to be tied to decisions regarding the northeast servicing so that we can take advantages of synergies between those two projects,” Graham said, referring to a potentially $60 million or more urgent land-servicing project council discussed in February.

The servicing project, which covers three separate but related projects, is needed to address the stormwater, sewage, and water infrastructure capacity constraints in the city's northeast neighbourhoods, like Erin Ridge North. The constraints led city administration to issue a temporary hold on development in late 2022 except on a case-by-case basis. Council learned in February any new development in the area could lead to infrastructure failures, meaning homes in Erin Ridge and Oakmont could experience basement floods and sewage backups.

“In light of the number of unknowns at this point in time, the it was the choice of administration to put [the fibre network expansion] into 2025 so that the funds would be available as we need it and as projects progress,” Graham told the committee.

Coun. Natalie Joly also asked if administration has considered alternatives to fibre.

“It is a very stable technology,” Graham said in response. “There are other alternatives that we could consider — commercial is certainly one, cellular is certainly another — both of them have limitations in terms of their bandwidth, and can, over the lifetime of the network, actually be significantly more expensive for the city.”

“With this regard, the fibre technology is very stable, and the number of fibres that you're able to bundle together into conduits certainly is advancing as the technology is advancing, but the fundamentals of the technology are quite stable.”

Although the committee approved administration's recommendation to add the network expansion project to the capital growth plan, the committee voted against a separate recommendation to remove an $8.72 million expansion of the fitness area of Servus Place.

The committee heard the expansion has an outdated cost estimate and community usage patterns of the fitness centre have changed since the project was proposed prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. With ongoing planning for a possible new recreation centre, administration's opinion is the Servus Place expansion project should be shelved at least until new cost estimates can be completed.

The majority of council disagreed, and voted against the recommendation.

“I think one of the biggest parts of the fitness expansion, other than the floor space, was the change rooms and the like in there, so I just don't see that [need] changing,” Coun. Ken MacKay said.

“Yes, the scope probably needs to be changed, the dollars are wrong, but keeping it as a placeholder that we do need to update it and we do need to do work in the facility, I think is important,” said Coun. Natalie Joly.

Although the committee decided to keep the gym expansion on the long-term capital plan, there's no guarantee the project will be included in upcoming budgets as all projects are filtered through a “prioritization matrix” each year to determine which projects are critical enough to be deserving of limited funding.

“We already know that half of the items aren't going to make the list, but if we don't have it as a placeholder it gets lost forever,” Coun. Sheena Hughes said. “I can see the value in actually keeping it, and if we need to update the numbers, we update the numbers when the time comes.”

Council has until April 19 to submit any other motions related to the capital growth plan before it's finalized ahead of next year's draft budget. Any additional motions will be debated in May.

Jack Farrell

About the Author: Jack Farrell

Jack Farrell joined the St. Albert Gazette in May, 2022.
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