There’s no need to waste $42 million on a politically motivated decision to upgrade the G.H. Dawe Centre when Red Deer needs a competition-sized swimming pool, a proponent of the project says.
Roy van der Sluis said he’s “extremely disappointed” the proposed aquatic centre, needed for about three decades, has been pushed out of the 10-year budget plan by the City of Red Deer.
The proposed pool deferment was done in response to the tight Alberta economy and less expected financial support from the province.
But van der Sluis believes part of this decision was made for political reasons — to give the north-side Dawe Centre some of the recreational amenities that are now only available south of the Red Deer River.
Rather than setting aside funds for a much-needed 50-metre indoor pool, the city is proposing a bunch of “nice-to-have” G.H. Dawe Centre upgrades that city residents can do without, he said.
These include twinning the Dawe arena, expanding its fitness centre, adding a new spray park with washrooms, and a running track — projects that van der Sluis considers a waste of money because they largely duplicate existing amenities, mostly in the downtown and south Red Deer.
“You can already hold hockey tournaments here, while you can’t hold a single aquatic competition — and yet we call ourselves a sports centre…”
Recreation, parks and culture manager Shelley Gagnon said the proposed twinning of the existing ice surface at the Dawe would make up for the pending loss of the Kinex Arena, which is approaching the end of its lifespan.
She explained city council wants to maintain existing ice spaces, which are in high demand: Some Red Deer hockey groups are already using arenas in smaller central Alberta communities.
The “lion’s share” of the $42-million Dawe project would be needed to accommodate this additional rink, said Gagnon.
Underground utility lines must be moved, more parking spaces added, and the cooling system for both rinks replaced. There are also plans to enlarge both rinks to an NHL size.
With so many site logistics preventing the Dawe arena twinning from being a simple job, Van der Sluis feels the city should keep costs down by building the new rink at the Collicutt Centre instead.
This would cost about $10-million — and “there’s already a door installed for it,” he added.
Gagnon admitted the Dawe location was partly based on a city council decision to balance the recreational amenities offered in north Red Deer with those in south Red Deer. But she added it’s also based on a Dawe Centre plan from 2007.
The ice surface expansion wasn’t done a decade ago, when other upgrades were completed on the Dawe Centre.
Meanwhile, Red Deer remains the only mid-size Alberta city to have no indoor competition swimming pool — a situation that might not be remedied until 2030 or beyond.
Former Red Deer city worker Grant Howell, who tried for 13 years to move the aquatic centre ahead, was also “shocked and devastated” by the proposal’s indefinite deferment — especially since he helped get money committed for a detailed design phase.
“If this is removed from the capital plan, it means that there are no plans to build it in my expected lifetime. I joined city management 29 years ago and it was needed then,” he added.
Gagnon understands this frustration, but she noted Red Deer already has five pools, due to previous city councils choosing to build recreational over competition-sized pools (except for the city’s outdoor 50-metre pool that is only in use from late May to September).
She doubts Lethbridge or Medicine Hat have to operate and maintain as many swimming pools.