Red Deer city council stopped “treading water” on the long-awaited aquatic centre project by approving a design, costing estimates, and narrowing down location to two possible sites.
The centre will eventually be built on either the Michener Centre North grounds, off 30th Avenue, or the Rotary Recreation Park, just south of the existing Recreation Centre.
Those two alternative locations were approved by council on Monday for a future completion-sized pool, even though it still remains outside the municipality’s 10-year capital plan.
Councillors will wait to get more details about these two sites before making a final decision about location next spring or summer.
Mayor Tara Veer called the plan’s approval “a significant step forward for a long-awaited community vision.”
By being “design ready” and having site possibilities and rough costing estimate, the city will be well positioned to apply for provincial or federal grants for the project when they are made available in the near future to help kickstart the economy, she added.
Although the competition-sized pool complex was pushed out of the City of Red Deer’s 10-year capital plan last year due to reduced provincial funding and a poor economy, GEC Architects had previously been asked to complete a preliminary report to develop a business case for the centre — including projected costs.
According to information presented to council construction, land acquisition and site development for the project would amount to $83.7 million (in 2020 dollars) for the Michener North site, or $76.4 million for the Rotary Recreation site, which doesn’t have as much underground infrastructure.
The latter total was projected to rise to about $91 million, due to inflation, by 2028.
Construction costs alone for just the building were estimated at $51.6 million in 2020 dollars.
City councillors felt that the design presented by Contractor GEC Architects and Counsilman-Hunsacker (a subcontractor) was quite straightforward in meeting the needs of various aquatic groups, without the frills of a previous design, considered a few years ago.
The latest proposed aquatics centre would be about 10,122 square metres in total size, and would feature a 53-metre by 25-metre pool with 10 swimming lanes.
Diving platforms would be developed at the deep end, and two movable bulkheads would accommodate the configurations needed for various sports, including water polo, swimming and artistic swimming, diving etc.
The complex would also include a smaller, 25-metre by 20.6-metre, pool with eight lanes to help athletes warm up for aquatic sport competitions, and space for local community programming.
Two hot tubs, steam and sauna amenities, universally accessible change rooms, and spectator seating for up to 750 people are also part of the design — as well as storage, a “dryland training area.”
While an outdoor pool was recommended, its costing was not included to allow greater flexibility and options for council’s consideration.
Andrew Tankard of GEC Architects, told council it would make sense from an economies of scale point of view to build another outdoor pool at the same site, considering the existing one is approaching the end of its lifespan.
The report concluded Red Deer wouldn’t need both the existing Michener Centre pool and the Recreation Centre pool after the new aquatic centre is built. If one is to be saved, GEC recommended it be the rec centre, as it gives more public programming options.
Several councillors questioned the inflationary consequences of waiting to 2028 or beyond to start the project.
But Mayor Veer noted that the report indicates a sharp tax increase would be needed if the project was started in the next year or two. It could mean the difference of having to bump up annual taxes by 8 per cent as opposed to 1.5 in later years, she added.
Councillors were told they would potentially have to increase the current municipally debt ceiling, which is set at 75 per cent of what the province allows, to be able to afford the project. City Manager Allan Seabrooke said administration will be ready to apply for any grants that come available to try to move the project up, if possible.
Coun. Dianne Wyntjes noticed on social media that many people in the community still don’t think an aquatic centre is needed. She believes it is, and will lead to more economic development, sports tourism and jobs in the city.
Coun. Vesna Higham said Red Deer is the only Alberta community of more than 50,000 people without a competition sized pool. Although Higham would have liked to see the centre built in the northwest Red Deer, the land considered there was unserviced, which would have driven project costs still higher.
Coun. Ken Johnston summed up council’s unanimous support for the project, by saying he’s delighted “to stop treading water” on the issue and take the plunge on the city’s long awaited next major recreational project.
But much will depend on the timelines set by the next city council, since there is a municipal election in 2021.