Parks, recreation projects bundled as council weighs choices

Method of vote on borrowing not decided, council whittling down options

Would you be OK raising your taxes to pay for a new Maple Ridge aquatic centre, if it meant paying for a new museum as well?

Or should a new stadium in Albion be part of a package that includes new ice sheets and community halls?

Council got a clearer look Monday at some of the recreation projects that could be funded under a proposed $110-million borrowing package that is part of this year’s budget.

No decisions have been made, nor has the manner been decided by which the public will vote on any resulting tax increase.

“Some of these are going to be extremely contentious, such as the museum. Rather than worry about whether some things are going to be a poison pill or not, give the public a broken-down choice what we’re going to do going forward,” Coun. Tyler Shymkiw said at the workshop meeting.

Council is now trying to prioritize its projects and is looking at a grading system so that it can objectively rank each of the projects.

“We really need to get on this because we have a growing community,” said Mayor Nicole Read.

“One thing that’s clear is there are not enough fields,” she added.

“We have a lot of kids in this community who need field time.”

Whether taxpayers will be voting on a group of recreational projects or on separate projects remains to be seen.

“I think that’s really hard to say right now. There are so many different possibilities,” Read said later.

Council looked at 12 groups of related projects that have been compiled and could fit well together, possibly resulting in a savings, if coordinated.

• One of the priciest on the list is a multi-use wellness facility and aquatic centre, featuring a 25-metre pool, a hot pool, sauna, steam room and a lazy river. That would be surrounded by a three-lane running track and would include two basketball courts, a six-sheet curling rink and a fitness centre that would ring in at between $60 million and $70 million. Operating costs would be about $2 million a year.

According to staff, the project would be unique, saying such European-type facilities are just beginning to become popular in North America.

• Another project entails upgrading the Maple Ridge Leisure Centre pool, beyond the $6 million in needed repairs. The proposal is to spend up to another $15 million to expand the 25-metre pool from six to eight lanes and to expand the deck and seating area to make it more conducive to competitive swimming events. The could be done without any increase in operating costs.

The work would be done on the premise that the “majority of future growth in Maple Ridge will occur in the downtown,” says the report.

• Another “bundle” of projects includes a 5,000-seat covered, outdoor stadium, costing $5 million. That would be paired with ongoing upgrades and additions to the sports fields currently underway in Albion flats.

• A new museum and archives building comes under the label “cultural facility,” and will cost about $11 million, with annual costs of about $1.5 million, and would include a 150-seat performing arts theatre. Partnership with the Katzie or Kwantlen First Nations could be possible.

A new museum had been planned a decade ago on property on 224th Street, above Haney House, but has remained unfunded since.

Read said there could be potential grant money for such a project.

“I feel like this is an area where I have experience,” said the mayor, who operates a historical research company.

• A youth action park is another project and is already funded in the 2018 budget at a cost of just under a million dollars.

• Up to another $25 million could be needed to expand the Planet Ice arena from two to four ice sheets, under the assumption that a new curling rink would be built in the new fitness aquatic centre. That project would entail a skating lounge and require cooperation with RG Properties, which operates the rink.

• Community halls in Silver Valley and Albion and a retrofit of Hammond Community Hall is another set of projects that have been grouped together. Some money has already been set aside for an Albion community hall. Cost for the new halls range between $6 and $12 million.

• More off-leash dog areas, a water play park, trail expansion, community gardens, and a consultation process to decide how to use Jackson Farm park round out the other projects.

Each one is to be evaluated by five criteria: whether it will serve as a regional attraction, meet a need, has a youth or family focus, follows major trends and is cost efficient.

“The idea is to get something transparent, something with some rigour in it, something that you can defend and explain to others,” consultant Brian Johnston, with Professional Environmental Recreation Consultants told council.

Read said later that urgency and cost are the most important criteria.

“We really need to understand what kind of facilities we want. What’s urgent, what we can delay a lot longer.”

However, council hasn’t yet agreed on such a grading system.

Shymkiw  said the city still has to know the cost and council has to be comfortable with the entire process.

“It doesn’t matter what we spend … we need permission to borrow it,” cautioned Coun. Craig Speirs.

Whatever’s decided has to suit the city for when it reaches its target population of 130,000.

Read said a plebiscite could go to the public as soon as the summer.

Coun. Corisa Bell wanted more communication with the public. People she’s talked to assume council has already decided to borrow $110 million.

It’s not certain exactly how much the city will need to borrow.

“How is this going to be presented to the public,” Bell asked. “How will the public participate in this process and when?”

“My interpretation of what’s happening out there is that people are not necessarily understanding what we’re doing right now. Something from the finance manager might be very helpful.”

But the city is following the general direction of the parks and recreation master plan, passed in 2011 and which created a list of priorities, said recreation general manager Kelly Swift.

While the list was created the master plan, it didn’t set out any way to fund the millions of dollars in projects.

Coun. Gordy Robson was worried about the financial impact of operating costs for such facilities.

Johnson said priorities can be reordered based on the amount of money available.

Coun. Bob Masse said he favoured a full plebiscite or referendum so the public can directly vote on the issues instead of the alternative approval process, in which 10 per cent of the voters is required to force a referendum.

Johnston will return to council with an evaluation of the future demands for the projects as well as their operating costs.

Shymkiw added later he favours having the public vote on separate projects rather than put a combined everything to a yes or no vote, although, “council still needs to have a discussion on it.”