Not all councillors are in favour of moving forward with the current plan to renovate Hay River’s recreation centre.
“In all, this is a huge decision for our town. The town has stated it is building for the future when we were building the fire hall,” Coun. Brad Mapes told The Hub. “Why would we not have the same view for our recreation centre?”
Mapes was the one councillor who voted against putting out a request for proposals in Sept. 2013 for the design of the whole renovation project and construction of the first of three phases. The subject was brought back to the fore at the regular meeting of council Jan. 27, at which time the call for proposals had yet to be put out. Mapes argued that council should take the opportunity to rescind their previous motion and explore building a brand new recreation centre on another site – at an estimated cost of $40 million, or double the estimated price of renovations to the current structure.
Mapes stated that his ongoing questioning of the decision to move forward with renovations stemmed from uncertainty about the state of the municipality’s finances. After reviewing the proposed capital budget, council discovered that they had $2 million less to play with for the rec centre than they had anticipated, bringing the total in the bank down to $4 million, with the estimated price of the first phase of construction coming in at $7.6 million.
“If that doesn’t raise red flags, I don’t know what will,” Mapes repeated on Jan. 30. “I would feel a lot better if we had a financial person telling us where we stand and whether we can afford this or not.
“Do we really feel like we’ve made the right decision? Can we really say everyone in this community knows what that means? Ultimately, it will come down to the taxpayers of Hay River to decide to vote in favor of the project and look at increases to their taxes. If that is the wish of the taxpayers of the town, I am fine with that. Building for the future and spending within our town’s means is the path I would like to see our town go down.”
Discussion around a new build included the potential for a new town hall and possible space for arts and cultural activities in a $40 million-facility near the new hospital on the other side of the tracks from downtown – commonly known as Sundog. Mapes said he doesn’t think that retrofitting the current rec centre isn’t the right idea, nor building in Sundog, but rather that both options should be explored more fully before moving forward.
“We have clear direction for the RFP (request for proposals) to go out,” said Mayor Andrew Cassidy. “This process is really going to identify where those costs are and come up with tight numbers.”
Cassidy also made it clear that further public consultations would occur on what some of the facilities would be and which phase of construction in which they would be included.
“We’re going to out to the public to ask about things like the colour scheme and some of the facilities,” he said, giving the example of a walking track that may be included in the first phase, delayed until the second, or taken out completely depending on community response to it. “It’s about choosing what will make this really our own rec centre and not something that you would see in any community.”
Public consultations on the location of the new rec centre were held as far back as 2007 and as recently as 2011, with three options presented. The first – and the one that ultimately won over the residents – was to retrofit the current facility at an estimated cost of $20 million, the second was a new build on the same site, meaning the loss of at least one ice season, with a new build at a different location round out the options with a price tag of $40 million.
“The estimates we have included prices for the option of a new build,” said Coun. Keith Dohey, going on to argue that previous public consultations already determined the preferable option. “It makes no sense to me to say we can’t afford this project, and then in the same breath say we go with a more expensive option.”
Cassidy said on Jan. 29 that while the RFP had yet to go out, it was anticipated it would be available to the public within short order, though amended to only include the design of all three phases, at a cost of about $1 million.
“The people who brought the new, more expensive build idea forward are the same people opposing a retrofit because of the finances,” said Dohey. “We’re going to need to find some pretty creative ways to fund the project as it is, never mind doubling the cost.”