County mum on college’s request for contribution to athletics facility

Red Deer College made a pitch to Red Deer County for a $5-million contribution towards a proposed $88-million Centre for Health, Wellness and Sport on Tuesday.

Red Deer College made a pitch to Red Deer County for a $5-million contribution towards a proposed $88-million Centre for Health, Wellness and Sport on Tuesday.

“This is not a donation. This is an investment,” said Michael Donlevy, the college’s vice-president of enterprise and community relations, said in his presentation to council.

The centre, to be built in time for the 2019 Canada Winter Games, will feature an Olympic-sized hockey rink, performance gymnasium, sports administration centre, as well as health and teaching facilities.

College president Joel Ward said the facility is integral to the institution’s goal of a becoming a degree-granting polytechnic university, and to reverse the “brain drain” siphoning Central Alberta’s young talent from their communities and into big cities.

“We believe this is a necessary facility.”

The college is also working with Alberta Health and Wellness to turn the centre into more than an athletics-focused building, but as an important resource for the whole community.

College representatives did not walk away with a county commitment.

Several councillors expressed reservations at the size of the request and wanted more information on what contributions other communities were making.

Mayor Jim Wood agreed that more time was needed to discuss the financial implications and consult with county ratepayers.

“I believe this is a very important investment the county has been asked to make,” said Wood. “I don’t think it’s wise to make a rash decision today.”

Coun. Richard Lorenz said the college’s request is only one of many the county is likely to receive, including an anticipated request from the City of Red Deer for help replacing the Red Deer Arena.

Applying county tax dollars to a facility focused on health and education — both already funded through residents’ provincial taxes — raises the concern that it could be seen as double taxing rural ratepayers, he said.

Coun. Philip Massier also agreed more time was needed to digest the request.

“To be fair to our ratepayers, I don’t think anyone expected that big of an ask without some (public) involvement.”

Councillors said they had received comments from ratepayers who oppose big spending on the college. A petition of 26 names has circulated calling on the county to instead invest more in roads.

The county plans to hold a public hearing at Red Deer County Centre on April 21 at 1:30 p.m. to give local residents an opportunity to listen to the college’s presentation and make comments.

Ward said the college has more than $50 million in commitments lined up for the project and expects to announce its biggest single donation ever soon. The project will go ahead whatever the county’s decision, but its support is important because it shows other potential donors that the community is behind the project.

The college plans to make a presentation to Lacombe County soon.

pcowley@bprda.wpengine.com