INNISFAIL - Town council has formally approved the comprehensive consultant’s validation report that offers a concept design for the proposed new $28.5 million aquatic centre that is planned to be built next to the Innisfail Twin Arena.
The motion for approval was brought to council at its regular meeting on May 8.
It was unanimously approved by council but not before passionate discussion over funding strategies and additional public consultation before a decision is made to move forward with detailed design.
Steven Kennedy, director of operations for the Town of Innisfail, said in his report that there has been several areas of interest and concern staff has heard from council since the presentation of the consultants’ validation report on March 20. They include:
• parking capacity;
• office space requirements versus vendor space;
• spacing between the arena and new building;
• pool viewing area;
• and operational savings associated with included energy efficiency upgrades (rooftop
solar) and other possible considerations (windows, heat pumps and more solar).
He added that all these areas will be addressed during the project’s detailed design process.
Council was reminded that on April 17 administration and council reviewed some of the funding strategies for the project to move ahead.
The include a town contribution of $12 million, and a total of $10 million from the provincial and federal governments.
The funding plan also includes $2.5 million from fundraising, $1 million from the provincial Community Facility Enhancement Program (CFEP) and $3 million from Red Deer County.
Following Kennedy’s presentation. Coun. Janice Wing noted that since the public has become aware of the initial proposed design for the new aquatic centre there has also been feedback that there needs to be more public engagement.
“I certainly have heard back from a few of our community groups saying, ‘we'd really like to be able to talk to you about this so that you can ensure that you understand what our needs are',” Wing told council. “I just wonder if we should be having that piece of engagement before we went any further on design so that the actual users of the facility are involved.”
Kennedy replied that the immediate priority was to get the validation report approved and “put on hold” as detailed design won’t be moving forward until project funding is in place.
“So at that time, absolutely. We would then have to look at engaging in doing those next steps moving forward,” said Kennedy. “Until then I didn’t see the public engagement part being warranted until we know the project can actually go.”
Council was then reminded by Todd Becker, the town’s chief administrative officer, and Meghan Jenkins, the town’s director of community services, of extensive past public surveys, which included a series of roundtable-type of discussion meetings with local target groups.
Council was told these engagements were carried out as far back as 2020 by the town, with support from a previous consultant, on various options for the future of the existing aquatic centre.
“And that doesn't preclude any further public discussion from going on,” added Mayor Jean Barclay, who has strongly pointed out since the release of the validation report that finding funding sources was now the number one priority for the aquatic centre project to move forward.
Wing countered that she “understood the history” of the engagement process that led to the creation of the validation report and where council now finds itself; a process she strongly believes in.
She went on to say that since the project concept design is now public, the town, which has not yet met with local user groups for more than three years, ought to at some point in time go back to these same groups for additional input.
“So yes, before we go any further, we need to figure out how we're going to pay for it,” said Wing later to the Albertan; agreeing the funding issue was of paramount importance. “But before we go to the next step, which is that final design piece, we need to go back to the community to say, ‘this is where we're heading. What is important to you?
“If we move the pool down into the Arena, people want to know, ‘well, how will parking be impacted? How will programming be impacted? How will our users feel about what the next stage of design is?”
Wing emphasized it was not a consultation that has to happen immediately but she added before council and administration have a conversation over the final design the public ought to be engaged once again.
“We need the users input into the detailed design, not just council’s and not just administration,” said Wing. “We can't wait until we have a final design and then go back and say, ‘what do you think?’ and then find out we missed something important.
“That would be expensive. That would be a waste of resources,” she added.
Wing told council on May 8 she would accept the validation report on the understanding that what comes next as the project moves forward on detailed design is that the town opens the planned project up for community consultation.
Council then approved the motion to formally approved the validation report.