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City of Red Deer report questions designing an aquatic centre that isn’t in 10-year capital plan

City council needs to raise its self-imposed debt limit, says project proponent
The envisioned exterior of the future Red Deer Aquatic Centre, by GEC Architects. The $107-million project remains outside the City of Red Deer’s 10-year capital plan. (Contributed image)

Once the City of Red Deer completes a $6-million detailed design plan for a new aquatic centre, the project would be a year away from being shovel-ready.

But there’s no money to build the $107 million project before 2033 — it’s still not fitting within the city’s 10-year capital plan because of city council’s self-imposed debt limit, as well as fewer opportunities for provincial grants.

These facts will be presented to city council on Monday in a staff report that could stir discussion about the timing of the aquatic centre project.

In 2021, city council set aside $6-million to do a detailed design for the proposed aquatic facility that would include an Olympic-sized pool for swimming competitions. This design phase could begin as soon as the land is purchased, a report to council states.

The centre’s future site — at Crossley Street and 30th Avenue on what was Michener Centre North land — could be sold to the city next year, once the province has finished remediating the property. “When the land is purchased and detailed designs are complete, we will be approximately a year away from being shovel ready,” states the report to council.

A finalized detailed design “will open the door to validate capital estimates and construction budgets, complete a detailed business plan and identify a viable funding model which includes grant funding options for consideration to be included in a future capital budget process.”

But all of these costs could drastically change if the project can’t be constructed for more than 10 years.

Aquatic centre advocate Roy van der Sluis said there’s obviously no point in proceeding to detailed planning and costing estimates next year if the project can’t be built anytime soon.

Unless the Red Deer city council raises its debt cap — which is now set at 75 per cent of what the province allows — no major projects will get done, he stressed.

But council recently reviewed its debt limit and opted to keep it.

Another option is obtaining provincial support for the project. But the report to council noted various provincial funding streams are now offering far fewer dollars than in the past.

Van der Sluis said he recently urged Red Deer South MLA Jason Stephan to get his UCP government behind the city’s aquatic centre project. It’s a matter of treating Red Deerians equitably, van der Sluis said, noting Calgary’s new hockey arena project received $330-million from the province. ”We are taxpayers, in Red Deer, too.”

Stephan couldn’t immediately be reached to comment on Friday.

The report to council shows the project’s expense isn’t just contained to construction. Various operating models were evaluated for long-term financial viability. And the net operating deficit for the indoor Aquatic Centre was projected to be $3.7 million annually, requiring an estimated 2.6 per cent tax increase to cover.

Lana Michelin

About the Author: Lana Michelin

Lana Michelin has been a reporter for the Red Deer Advocate since moving to the city in 1991.
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