Red Deer city council has approved the long awaited $43.3-million G.H. Dawe Community Centre upgrade, which will add a second ice surface, a new spray park and indoor track.
While some high emotions arose during Wednesday’s budget talks over whether council has given short shrift in the past to the needs of residents of the city’s north end, most councillors felt it was high time the Dawe Centre received two regulation sized rinks and other expanded amenities
In a 7-2 vote, council supported improving the G.H. Dawe Community Centre to enable more sport competitions, including the ability to host accessible tournaments including sledge hockey.
With $15 million in federal funds approved specifically for this project, Mayor Tara Veer said the time to act is now.
City taxpayers will be covering about a third of project costs ($7.5 million in municipal funds was approved Wednesday and $7.5 million was previously approved in 2019), with the rest carried by the federal and provincial governments.
While a previous Dawe renovation was completed in 2009, council heard community demand for ice surfaces and the need to replace the aging Kinex arena prompted the need for this second stage of renovations.
Council was told all prime-time ice slots at city arenas were 100 per cent full, and off-prime times — which go beyond midnight in some cases, — were 85 per cent full.
Meanwhile, the 50-year-old Kinex arena, which was originally built as a barn, is failing and will have to be demolished in the next few years.
Councillors Tanya Handley and Vesna Higham voted against the Dawe renovation, saying the community’s priority at this time should be a new aquatic centre. It isn’t yet in the city’s 10-year capital plan, even though it was the No. 1 community priority in a 2014 study.
Higham said she supports a Dawe upgrade, but feels it should happen after the aquatic centre is built with a 50-metre competition-sized pool that most other Alberta mid-sized cities already have.
She felt Red Deerians can always use regional ice arenas in Blackfalds and Penhold.
But General-Manager of Community Services, Sarah Tittemore, told council that residents of these communities are understandably given first priority for ice times.
Coun. Frank Wong made an impassioned argument for the Dawe renovation, relating several examples of when he felt the north Red Deer was short-changed by council. He noted the Dawe pool was built too shallow, the existing rink is too short, and funding was less than optimal for the construction of the newer YMCA operated community centre.
Coun. Buck Buchanan said he also felt the Dawe Centre’s rink twinning should have happened a decade ago, while Coun. Ken Johnston could see no common-sensical reason not to proceed with a renovation to a community centre in what he called an under-serviced part of the city. This is especially the case when two-thirds of the funds come from higher levels of government, he added.
Veer and Handley stressed that no divisions exists between north and south Red Deer — or between local hockey players and swimmers. “We are unequivocally one community,” said Veer, who considers the aquatic centre the city’s next major recreation project.
The G. H. Dawe expansion — which will require an admission fee increase to cover a larger operational budget — will include two NHL-sized ice surfaces (upgrading of the existing ice surface to NHL standards and one new ice surface).
The renovated centre will also have expanded fitness facilities, a running track and accessible change rooms. A new outdoor spray park will be added, with dedicated washroom and change space.
There will be enhanced parking and a new eastbound access to 67 Street. Also, playground amenities will be relocated and expanded.
Work is slated to begin in 2021 and be done by late 2022.
The Dawe renovations were part of a $218.7 million 2021 Capital Budget approved by council on Wednesday.