Councillor Tim Cartmell [website, Facebook, Twitter]
Do We Need a New Recreation Plan?
Soon after my family and I moved to Ward 9, I joined an active group to get a recreation centre built in southwest Edmonton. That group became the Terwillegar Riverbend Advisory Council, and I became the Chair of the Recreation Centre design committee. This large community group of ordinary volunteer citizens - now some of my closest friends - advocated for and ultimately succeeded in getting the Terwillegar Community Recreation Centre built.
At that time, Edmonton had not built a new recreation facility of any kind for 25 years. St. Albert had just approved the construction of Servus Place, Sherwood Park had Millenium, Spruce Grove and Stony Plain had the Tri-Leisure Centre. Even Calgary had three “mega” recreation centres.
Terwillegar was a rousing success. It was the only recreation centre that covered its operating costs. Built simultaneously with the new Commonwealth Rec Centre, these developments spawned the construction of the Meadows and Clareview centres, and the design of the Coronation and Lewis Farms rec centres.
More than that, it has become the heart of the community. I cannot walk through that building without spending half an hour talking to people I have known for years. It is truly a community hub and everyone should have one.
But somewhere along the way, we lost the plot. Lewis Farms and Coronation - the next mega-recreation centres in the queue - are prohibitively expensive to build. Mega-centres are planned for Heritage Valley and Glenridding. Smaller-scale centres in established neighbourhoods including Oliver and Queen Alexandria are failing and need replacement.
If we stall out on Lewis Farms and Coronation, and can’t move forward on any of the others, that means no new recreation amenities for years, perhaps decades.
The City Plan calls for 15-minute neighbourhoods. Neighbourhoods where you can find education, entertainment, employment, recreation, shopping, playspace and park space all within a 15-minute walk from your front door.
In the southern neighbourhoods of Ward pihêsiwin, we are not close. Ambleside, Glenridding, Langdale, Upper Windermere and Keswick all have beautiful collections of houses. Some have schools with some park space. There are a couple of shopping centres. But the closest recreation amenity is Terwillegar Rec Centre, a 20-minute drive north, across Anthony Henday Drive. Not a 15-minute walk, and certainly not a place you can send your kid on their bike.
We need a better plan.
One of my accomplishments from the last Council term I am most proud of is the partnership at Dr. Anne Anderson High School which resulted in a $6M community centre being added to the school. This was a partnership my colleague Trustee Nathan Ip and I collaborated on and lobbied for; one that sees this school become a community hub.
Now, with that community centre, several local community leagues have a place to meet. Local residents including youth can access a fitness centre and running track. It isn’t as grand as Terwillegar, but it will go a long way. It will be near a future LRT station and is a couple of blocks from the small, storefront Heritage Valley library branch.
These are excellent examples of small-scale amenity development that can be delivered through partnerships at a much lower cost than the mega rec centre. What can we do to find owner-operators that will build a local arena or swimming pool to become that hub in the next neighbourhood? Developers? Builders? School Boards?
Many of the smaller amenities I am talking about are usually delivered in partnership with Community Leagues. The local community league will complete a needs assessment to determine community support for a spray park or a new community hall. It will raise money through fundraisers or casinos. It will apply for matching grants from the City and the Province. It is a worthy process, but it takes years, and that’s if you already have a community league.
In the neighbourhoods I mentioned above, there is one community league. They are wonderful people, dedicated to their neighbourhoods. But they cannot serve all five communities, and the City cannot wait for those new leagues to form. We need to act much more quickly than that.
Smaller Scale Recreation
I think we need to re-visit the mega recreation centre plan.
I think we need to break those giant $300M facilities into 5 or 6 pieces and sprinkle the pieces into several neighbourhoods.
I think we need to give all neighbourhoods the chance to become that 15-minute community. How much better would our neighbourhoods be if they had an arena or swimming pool or library, with a fitness centre attached, right next to the neighbourhood school?
I think if we stop trying to deliver $300M buildings, and focus on delivering $30M -50M buildings, we can build more buildings faster, and serve more communities sooner. Notably, those new communities pay lots of taxes and receive fewer services than those in established neighbourhoods.
I think moving to the $30M-50M scale allows us to easily contemplate more replacement projects in Oliver or Queen Alexandra, where recreation facilities have come to the end of their economic life. We cannot allow those facilities to be decommissioned without a plan to replace them.
I understand we have made promises for big rec centres in Lewis Estates and Coronation. I understand it is easy for me to question those projects when my part of the City already has Terwillegar. We need to reconcile commitments made to those communities with the needs in so many other parts of the City, and I am prepared to work at City Council to find a way to deliver on those commitments.
There is more work to do, and I have the combination of skills, experience and connectivity to the community which will allow me to continue to very effectively support and represent Ward pihêsiwin and the City of Edmonton.