“Huge task ahead” as City lays groundwork for long-term playground repairs

Ward 8 Coun. Ted Zurakowski speaks during a 2018 executive committee meeting. -- Herald file photo.

Prince Albert city council is looking at a $50,000 annual budget increase to help repair and revitalize some of the city’s playgrounds.

The city owns and maintains 37 parks in Prince Albert, 31 of which contain a variety of playground components such as slides and swings. On Monday, city council approved a motion that will put a $50,000 increase for the parks department on the Nov. 7-8 budget meeting agenda.

Ward 8 Coun. Ted Zurakowski spearheaded the effort to get the item on the budget agenda. He said it wasn’t enough to simply file reports about playground conditions. Council needed to take action.

“I don’t care what area of the city gets it first, second or third, as long as, at the end of the day, at the end of the year, (and) at the end of two or three years, the city as a whole is healthier with its playgrounds.”

A report from Tim Yeaman, the city’s parks manager kicked off Monday’s debate. Yeaman wrote that the Community Services Department had “a huge task ahead in the maintenance and refurbishment of many of these parks, as some have gone without updates to their specific equipment for many years.”

In 2018, the city allocated $20,000 for park repair, all of which was spent on three parks. Items purchased include one swing set, which cost $5,100, and new garbage cans, which cost $6,300.

Yeaman added that the city needs to develop a long-term plan for playground maintenance, while seeking additional feedback from residents about which playgrounds need the money the most.

“We believe our playground program is worth the investment,” he said during a brief presentation to council. “The question is though (with) many of these playgrounds that we currently have today, what’s the change in demographics in those neighbourhoods and do we need those specific playgrounds? Do we need that specific playground equipment and how can we tailor those playgrounds to meet our current community needs? That’s going to be quite the task.”

Yeaman added that the parks department did what they could with the $20,000 allotted annually, however more money would allow them to establish a Maintenance and Refurbishment Program. Having such a program would allow them to apply for grants, which could reduce the financial burden. Further details, such as costs for repairing and refurbishing specific parks in Prince Albert, will be included in a report due in 2019.

Zurakowski received enthusiastic support for his motion, with councillors Evert Botha, Dennis Ogrodnick and Blake Edwards all speaking in favour of it.

Mayor Greg Dionne also voted in favour of the motion, although with some reservations. He wants to see the dollar increase come from city reserves, and not from operational or capital funding.

The city currently has roughly $250,000 sitting in a parks and playground development fund. Those funds come from a development levy paid by contractors and private developers when they build new homes.

“We’re going to have a tight budget year and I think we should spend the money we have, then move ahead,” Dionne said.