By Trevor Busch
Priorities detailed for town council in a new draft Recreation Master Plan suggest the municipality should renovate the Small Ice Arena and consider future construction of an indoor dryland facility.
RC Strategies had previously met with the recreation board in late August, when the organization shared research findings from surveys that were put out to the public. The draft Recreation Master Plan was presented to the Taber Recreation Board on Nov. 7.
The plan’s top 10 priorities included indoor sports fields (37 per cent), climbing walls (37 per cent), jogging/walking tracks (36 per cent), indoor child play spaces (27 per cent), gymnasiums (23 per cent), ice arenas (22 per cent), multi-purpose sport surfaces (20 per cent), fitness/wellness facilities (20 per cent), leisure swimming pools (20 per cent), and performing arts theatres (17 per cent).
RC Strategies recommended sustaining the Small Ice Arena while investing in safety and modernization.
“While a full-size arena replacement is desired by some of the ice user groups, utilization is not really high enough to necessarily warrant additional ice,” said Ryan Schwartz with RC Strategies at council’s Nov. 12 meeting. “It is serving the needs of the groups, and in talking with the groups during the discussion sessions, their worst-case scenario is that maintenance is neglected and there’s indecision. If you were to invest in another full-sized ice arena right now, that would likely delay that indoor dryland facility.”
Half-ice facilities have now been identified as a need in many communities.
“Hockey Canada is mandating half ice games for the novice age groups, and I think it’s going to be a trend in the next few years that municipalities might start purposely building smaller ice rinks for younger groups,” said Schwartz. “For example, that’s happening in Winnipeg right now.”
The consulting firm argues the next major infrastructure development should focus around a multi-use indoor dryland facility, as it rated highly and desire for such a facility was expressed through the household survey, community group survey, and stakeholder discussions.
“Such spaces are currently a gap in Taber,” reads a statement in the report.
Emphasis was also placed on maintaining existing infrastructure to ensure safety and ongoing maintenance, including conducting facility condition assessments, identifying maintenance items, incorporating expenses into capital planning and budgeting, and to “place a high priority on allocating resources to maintain infrastructure.”
The report also included a series of “Guiding Principles for Parks” that focused on environmental stewardship, acquisition (“Garner as much parks and open space inventory as possible through land development”), structured spaces, geographic distribution and accessibility (“Each existing and new residence should be located within close proximity to a park space in their neighbourhood”), connectivity, and affordability.
“One thing we found through the research is some of the demographics here might be segregated a little bit,” said Schwartz. “We want to make sure that we’re providing rec opportunities for everybody, and that everybody feels welcome.”
RC Strategies called on the town to strengthen current partnerships and develop new ones to maximize capacity and community benefit, and to “work with the M.D. of Taber to provide recreational opportunities to regional residents” while also “engaging the school districts to develop a joint-use agreement.”
“We want to make sure that we can provide the most bang for our investment, and partnerships are a good way to do that,” said Schwartz. “We want to make sure, specifically, that we’re working with the M.D. of Taber to provide recreation opportunities to regional residents. We’re also suggesting to engage the school districts to develop a joint-lease agreement — which you currently don’t have — there is some community use of school gymnasiums, but groups said it was a challenge to book them, or to know who to contact to book them, and it really depends on their personal relationship with that school. So we just want to make sure that those community spaces are well used, especially since an indoor dryland facility is seen as a gap.”
It was also suggested the town take steps to support and encourage volunteerism, as “most of the recreation delivery system relies on volunteers” and “volunteer burnout is a challenge” so promoting volunteer and training opportunities, as well as recognizing those individuals, should be a priority.
In the area of financial responsibility, it would be good strategy to place primary focus on participation rates and benefits as opposed to cost recovery.
“Align subsidy levels with community benefit,” said Schwartz. “What I mean by that is instead of having cost recovery targets — which is really focused on generating revenue — this is essentially the exact same thing but flipped around. Instead of saying we want to have 75 per cent cost recovery on this program, we would rather say we can afford to provide this program at a 25 per cent subsidy level.”
The consulting firm’s report recommended ensuring that leased spaces are properly maintained and benefit the community by implementing annual reporting and meetings, monitoring participation rates, and assessing accountability to maintenance requirements and financial responsibilities.
RC Strategies contracted an architect to do a facility assessment on the Taber Community Centre and on the Taber Aquafun Centre, identifying short and long-term maintenance issues.
Two recommendations related to lease spaces buried in the facilities analysis report prepared by ACI Architects Inc. came as a surprise to administration and council.
“The fitness centre does not meet exiting, accessibility, fire ratings and ventilation requirements,” reads the architect’s recommendations. “We do not recommend continued use of this space. The archery space does not meet accessibility, fire ratings, and ventilation requirements. We do not recommend continued use of this space.”
“One thing that you’ll see in the architect report is that they recommend to discontinue the use of the fitness space and the archery range downstairs in the community centre, because of concerns to do with exiting, fire exits, and air ventilation,” said Schwartz. “So we just want to make sure that those are safe spaces.”
Mayor Andrew Prokop sought immediate clarification of this recommendation.
“According to that architect report — and we have yet to clarify it more — they strongly recommended to discontinue use of those spaces for active participation,” replied Schwartz.
Prokop was concerned about the implications involved.
“That’s definitely an impact to the facilities there that are currently in use.”
Coun. Joe Strojwas wanted to know if there was anything that could be done to rectify the issues identified by the architects.
“My question would be with regard to the archery range and fitness space. What would it take to make those facilities more user-friendly, for lack of a better word? Rather than just shutting them down because they don’t meet code or whatever, if there would be something that could be done to upgrade them for better access and airflow, rather than just shut the door and leave them as empty spaces.”
Rob Parks with RC Strategies promised there would be follow-up to clarify the recommendation.
“We will connect up with the architect in the next day or so and go through that report to make sure that we understand it, and we will report back to you through administration.”
In a statement issued following the meeting, recreation director Dawn Phillips attempted to shed some light on the firm’s recommendations involving the lease spaces.
“The town was caught by surprise with RC Strategy’s presentation at the November 12 council stating their opinion that the gym and archery facilities are not suitable or safe for the public to utilize and should be closed. We want to make it very clear that we are not closing those facilities and that they are safe for the public, and we’re bringing back clarification to council on November 25 to indicate as such.”
Spaces currently leased by the town include the curling rink, archery range, fitness space, Parkside Manor, Arts and Crafts Centre, and the Taber Agri-Plex. RC Strategies had 252 households respond to the household survey (representing 705 individuals), 42 community organizations and stakeholder groups participated in the in-person discussion sessions, and 28 groups submitted a response to the community group survey.