Red Deer has applied for provincial grants to help pay for the expansion of G.H. Dawe Community Centre. (Advocate file photo).

Aquatic Centre should be higher priority than Dawe Centre upgrades, say two Red Deer city councillors

$5 M approved for moving utilities to make way for Dawe Centre expansion

Aquatic Centre should be higher priority than Dawe Centre upgrades, say Handley, Higham

Council got the ball rolling on a G.H. Dawe Recreation Centre expansion and upgrade, despite two councillors urging that a new aquatic centre be the city’s priority.

Councillors Tanya Handley and Vesna Higham did not approve spending $5 million to help Atco move deeply buried utility lines near the Dawe to accommodate building a future spray park and hockey arena twinning.

At this time of austerity, “we can’t do the Dawe and the aquatic centre — we just can’t,” said Higham, who believes Red Deer has greater need of a competition-sized pool, as the only mid-sized Alberta city not to have one.

Handley also doesn’t believe the Dawe Centre expansion should be the community’s next recreation project, given that the swimming community has been lobbying for decades for an aquatic centre project that was recently removed from the city’s 10-year capital plan due to a reduction in provincial funding.

The councillors said they sympathize with the hockey community, but it benefited from the recently renovated Servus Arena and a new rink at Red Deer College’s Gary W. Harris Centre.

Others on city council did not feel it was an either/or situation between hockey and swimming. It’s all about priorities, said Coun. Ken Johnston, who had earlier unsuccessfully urged council not to spend $10 million on a railroad overpass that will not be needed for a decade or more.

Johnston explained that amenities help create a livable, attractive community, and keep young people positively engaged — something money spent on roads won’t achieve.

Coun. Lawrence Lee suggested delaying the $5-million Dawe utility moving project by a year, since provincial grants that were previously approved for the rink twinning and spray park projects are now under review by the new UCP government.

Since the fate of the grants is unknown, he thought it made sense to hold off.

But his motion was defeated, as most councillors saw no sense in delaying a project that many north Red Deer residents are anticipating. The Dawe rink twinning was already delayed three times, Coun. Frank Wong noted.

Roy van der Sluis, a proponent of the aquatic centre project who attended Tuesday’s capital budget deliberations, said he appreciated Higham and Handley’s support for the pool project.

But he agreed with Johnston that both the pool and the Dawe centre project could go ahead, if council made recreational infrastructure a higher priority than projects like the overpass.

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