Taking the plunge into building a $74.6-million aquatic multi-use centre will not be an easy decision for Red Deer city council.
Advocates argue that the multi-use facility would benefit the entire community, not just the competitive clubs and lane swimmers in the city.
But opponents say Red Deer doesn’t need another swimming pool and the city shouldn’t commit to such a costly project that would raise property taxes.
City manager Craig Curtis said there is no doubt the project would have an impact on tax bills but the city does have choices when it comes to paying for the project and reducing the impact. He said it is too early to say what the impact would be if council approves the project.
“We can look at a combination of taxes, debenture funding and delaying or deferring other projects,” said Curtis. “If we delete or delay other projects, then we may be able to lessen the impact on taxes.”
Curtis said the taxes required for the project would decrease if any provincial or federal grants came through or if other projects were put on hold or scrapped.
Last year, council approved a resolution during budget talks to engage the public about a proposed aquatic centre and to form an ad-hoc aquatic committee with public members to determine the scope of the facility.
According to the committee’s report, the longer the city waits to build a facility, the higher the price tag. In 2018, the projected cost for the aquatics centre would ring in around $96.5 million compared to an estimated $125.7 million in 2024.
The committee met several times between April and June and looked at the size, location, included amenities, cost and phasing of the multi-use aquatic centre.
They reviewed past concept and business plans and considered Rotary Recreation Park as a potential site. The 2010-13 council footed $200,000 for the work.
Despite all the work, an aquatic centre has never been inked into the city’s long-term capital plan.
Jack Cuthbertson, a chairman of the Central Alberta Aquatics Centre Committee, was part of the city’s latest committee and part of the conversation four years ago when the conceptual plans were drawn up for the proposed centre. He has not grown tired of saying that Red Deer has a pool deficiency and is lagging behind smaller municipalities such as Grande Prairie.
He said there has been enough background work and studies, and now is time to finally put the multi-use centre into the plans.
“We want to extend the Rec Centre to make the aquatic centre,” said Cuthbertson. “The cost of building the new one and joining it on can’t be beat.”
Cuthbertson said other locations were considered, including a undeveloped green space somewhere else in the city that would tack on at least $28 million onto the project.
As for Michener Centre, Cuthbertson said there is only so much the city can do when “you don’t own the property.” The fate of the recreation building is up in the air as the province plans to shut down the centre this year.
Cuthbertson said building an aquatics centre in Red Deer is past due.
“It has been studied to death,” he said. “Before council now there is a well-thought-out proposal, well-backed-up studies. (It) provides them with all kinds of information, more than they need to make a decision.”
Former mayor Morris Flewwelling waded in on the pool debate, saying the city needs and should have a 50-metre pool. He said the problem all along has been funding the project. He said provincial and federal money has all but dried up in recent years.
“This community has been forced into some very rapid growth over the last 20 years,” said Flewwelling. “It has kept us with our nose to the grindstone to keep up with water and wastewater increases and some of the amenities in the community.”
Ten years ago, Red Deer’s population was 75,923 and now it is 98,585 and shows no sign of slowing down. At a medium growth rate of 2.23 per cent, city figures show “Red Deer can expect to grow to 128,420 in the next 10 years and reach 1750,000 by 2014.”
“Council is faced with a juggling act,” said Flewwelling. “And I think the jig is up, quite frankly. I don’t think they can study it anymore. I think somebody has to stick their neck out and say, ‘OK this is what we’re going to do’ and simply get on with it. If it means putting the pool in the ninth year of the 10-year plan, fine. That tells people something. If it says ‘No we’re never going to build that pool,’ that tells them something else.”
The proposed multi-use aquatic centre would feature a 10-lane, 54-metre pool with two bulkheads, a 25-metre outdoor pool, a separate diving tank, wellness area, moveable floor and other features.
Swimming advocates such as Mandi Smith, head coach of the Catalina Swim Club, said a 50-metre pool would definitely put her athletes on a level playing field across the province and nationally. The club competes in 50-metre pools and has access to the outdoor pool starting on June 1 with its long-course season beginning on Jan. 1.
“For us at a competitive scale, being able to train in the same sort of facility that we race in would be extremely beneficial,” said Smith. “We drive to Edmonton or Calgary to do the training. From March on, it’s about once a week until the outdoor pool opens.”
But Smith said she would like to see more pool space in Red Deer in order to offer more swimming lessons, water safety courses, other water sports and to reduce the large waiting lists for everyone.
It would also add to the economic growth in the city with athletes travelling to and staying in Red Deer to compete in the provincial and national competitions, she said.
“I think the more Red Deer citizens get to educate themselves on what would make us a better city as a whole I think would help in the development of this city,” said Smith. “Especially when we look at it as a fit for life, swimmers for life mentality when we have to look at water safety in our area.”