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Shine dims on Innisfail aquatic centre dream

Innisfail town council will soon hold a special strategy session to examine other options for planned $28.5-million aquatic centre
Innisfail town council will have a strategic session in March to look at options if the town decides in the future it can not go on with its plan for a new $28.5 million aquatic centre. Rendering courtesy of Group2 Architecture

INNISFAIL – Discouraged by gloomy prospects for senior government grant support for the planned $28.5 million aquatic centre, the Town of Innisfail could soon be looking at a next best option.

In fact, town council approved a motion at its regular meeting on Feb. 12 to hold a special strategy session within the next month to discuss all available options, such as a full renovation of the aging existing aquatic centre in case the planned 22,600 square-foot mega project is ultimately jettisoned.

“Is it even realistic? Well, it's not realistic. If we don't get funding from the provincial government, the federal government - extensive funding - we're not going to build this new aquatic centre,” Town of Innisfail Mayor Jean Barclay told council members. “I'm afraid the answer is going to be no to be honest with you.

“And then maybe we have to go back to option two or three or four on what are we going to do with our (existing) aquatic centre, which is running, barely.”

Barclay’s comments came as council discussed the merits of an administration report, which was later accepted as information, that outlined potential responsibilities of a proposed fundraising consultant for the planned new aquatic centre project.

It was suggested by administration that Phase 1 of the fundraising work would cost $30,000, and payment for Phase 2 would be based on a percentage of successful sales that would range between 15 and 20 per cent.

However, when it came to Barclay’s turn to speak to the report she reminded council members her stance from the beginning was that for the project to be viable it had to have millions of dollars of financial support from senior levels of government, as well as a significant contribution from another municipal partner, such as Red Deer County.

“Are we going to spend more money before we even know where we are with that?” asked Barclay. “So, are we going to spend another 30 (thousand) and then say, ‘well, gee, sorry, we can't build this because we didn't get this funding over here.

"I think this is putting the cart a little bit before the horse,” added Barclay to council. “And I would like to wait a little bit until we can finally get a yes or no.”

She told council members the town can not wait “three, five, seven or eight years” to build a new aquatic centre.

“I think in the next few months a hard decision must be made on which way we're going. It’s either going to be building a new one, or it's going to be renovating the existing one,” said Barclay, emphasizing the mega-project concept is still a go, for now. “I've got a lot of reservations right now about being able to move forward with a new one just because of (Government of Alberta) letters we've received.”

Barclay noted the 2024 funding from the new provincial Local Government Fiscal Framework (LGFF) for infrastructure is only earmarking about $1.1 million for capital projects in Innisfail; 43 per cent below levels from the old Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI) grant structure in 2011.

She also noted the provincial government announced plans in 2023 to invest $80 million over four years to a create a Community Recreation Centre Infrastructure Fund for mid-sized projects in municipalities, such as arenas, pools, and indoor turf centres.

“That's $20 million a year. How much a municipality would get nobody knows yet. They (province) are still working on this,” said Barclay. “We have had discussions with that ministry’s office and will continue to dialogue.”

Following Barclay’s strong comments to council other members agreed and welcomed the idea of having a strategy session to look at future options.

“Like you Mayor Barclay, I'm very afraid we're not going to get the support we need from the province or the federal government, and that's really going to change our focus,” said Coun. Janice Wing.

Coun. Jason Heistad said it was important for council to be “upfront” with citizens because he believes there are expectations in the community the mega-project “is happening, and it's a rec facility bigger than a pool.

“To me that’s disingenuous,” Heistad told council. “We need to make sure we're out in front of that, and explaining why we're going this route.

“But as well as saying, ‘hey, we can't do it on our own.”


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