The Department of National Defence will close Springbrook’s air cadet camp at the end of the 2014 season because of exorbitant leasing costs.
Major Mike Lagace, senior public affairs officer for the Regional Cadet Support Unit (Prairies), said that a strategic review showed that it was better to close down the camp within the hamlet. The cadet camp was launched in 1966.
The former Canadian Forces Base Penhold used to be owned by Ottawa, but since 1995 the federal government has been leasing the land from private developers Harvard Park Business Centre. The existing leasing agreement is coming due.
“The leasing costs were significant to run the summer camp,” said Lagace from Winnipeg on Friday. “So it was a strategic cost savings to send our cadets to different centres, which we can do.”
An Air Cadet League of Canada spokesmen told the Advocate on Thursday that the camp would close after the 2013 camp. But DND said Friday it would be in 2014.
Lagace said the cost savings will be huge.
“Penhold, we certainly have a history there, but the ownership is the issue and it’s leased property,” said Lagace. “We’re saving hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions. . . it is millions of dollars that we’re actually saving.”
A representative reached through Harvard Park Business Centre in Penhold declined comment on Friday.
The camp used to draw about 2,500 cadets annually. In recent years, about 1,200 cadets ages 12 to 18 come for summer training, plus about 120 staff cadets.
“We’re fine (with the closure),” said Lagace. “We’re very confident that our cadets are not losing a step at all. Matter of fact, they will experience different opportunities.”
Lagace said the cadets will be able to go to various places, including Cold Lake, Vernon, B.C. and Whitehorse, Yukon.
The Prairies region of northwest Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta has more than 9,000 cadets, plus close to 1,500 part-time adult officers and civilian volunteers.
The economic loss of this camp is expected to be far-reaching across the region.
Penhold Mayor Dennis Cooper said the summer training camps have employed Penhold youth in the kitchens and other areas of the camp.
“That’s going to be a huge impact on us,” he said. “There was a lot of short-term work. There was a lot of ex-military people retired in Penhold and they also picked up a few summer jobs.”
Cooper said it’s sad that leasing costs are the reason why the Department of National Defence is shutting the camp down.
“We’re losing something that put millions of dollars into the economy,” he said. “These cadets would go to places like Sylvan Lake and Red Deer.”
Cooper said he’s not sure what Harvard Park will do with the acres and acres of land on which the barracks sit. The barracks generally sit empty until the cadets come for those two months, he said.
Cooper, owner of Sky Wings Aviation at the nearby Red Deer Airport, said the cadet camp loss will hurt his business as well.
Over the last number of years, the company has bid on and been successful at training air cadets to get a pilot’s licence. This summer, DND will give Sky Wings $10,000 for each of the 16 air cadets slated to take the program over seven weeks.
RJ Steenstra, CEO for Red Deer Airport, said the impact will be felt somewhat because each passenger that comes through the airport is charged an improvement fee.
The airport will see decreased passenger numbers over the summer months at the outset, he added.
“There is going to be some financial impact in 2014, but given the growth plans of the airport and progress we’ve been made, we can easily make that up,” said Steenstra. “I think the bigger impact will be the broader community — we don’t have the cadets coming and spending their money.”
City of Red Deer’s Planning director Paul Meyette said the closure of the camp, which has such a longstanding history, is disappointing.
“It will have an impact on us economically,” Meyette said. “The exact impact we haven’t calculated.”
Prairie Bus Lines has transported the cadets around in the region.
Company general manager Scott Hucal said that business has been slowing decreasing for the last three years.
“We do work out there, so it will have somewhat of an impact,” Hucal said. “But we will survive.”