It took almost two hours of pointed and, at times, heated debate, but Prince Albert City Council has approved a land swap agreement with the Prince Albert Grand Council.
The move means the city takes possession of the abandoned Angus Mirasty School and lot, located at 2101 Fifth Avenue West, while the PAGC gets the Parkland Recreation Centre and lot, located at 1510 Ninth Avenue West.
The swap includes all assets held within Parkland, such as the Zamboni, sports equipment, furnishings, kitchen appliances and cookware. The PAGC must also honour all of Parkland’s current lease or booking agreements, including the Play and Learn Day Care Centre lease agreement, which doesn’t expire until the end of 2020.
The PAGC will pay no taxes for the first year of operation, which begins in 2020. They will pay 25 per cent of taxes in year two, 50 per cent in year three, 75 per cent in year four, and 100 per cent for year five.
The city has no current plans for the Angus Mirasty School property, although the building has already been condemned. City administrators said the most likely development would be a park or green space, however council has also considered rezoning the lot for residential development.
An overflow crowd filled the gallery for Monday’s council session, with two residents making passionate pleas to keep the Parkland Rec Centre in city hands. One of those pleas came from local musician Donny Parenteau, who vowed to hold as many fundraisers as necessary to keep Parkland financially viable and in city hands. However, supporters of the deal said the problem plaguing Parkland was a lack of volunteers, not finances. Council ultimately voted 5-4 to make the swap.
“I am excited, strictly because they (PAGC) have the funding, they have the structure, they have the model and they have the programming,” said Mayor Greg Dionne, who voted in favour of the proposal along with Couns. Don Cody, Blake Edwards, Ted Zurakowski and Dennis Ogrodnick. “Look at already what’s happening there.”
“To me, this is a fantastic partnership opportunity for the entire city,” added Zurakowksi, who represents the ward where Angus Mirasty School is located. “It’s a win for the folks in West Hill. It’s a win for the City of Prince Albert, absolutely.”
Ward 1 Coun. Charlene Miller, who represents the area where Parkland Hall is located, was less impressed.
“I’m frustrated, absolutely,” she said. “As a city councillor for the ward that it affects … I’m very disturbed because I believe that consultation is very important prior to plans.”
Monday’s debate started with two presentations from local residents opposing the deal. The first generated just one of many heated exchanges after some council members and city administrators objected to being called liars.
The main concerns were how little time the public had to review the deal—which was added to Monday’s agenda following public consultations on May 28 and June 5—and poor communication between the city and Prince Albert residents over whether or not a deal was already in place.
The first presenter, Chrissy Halliday, blasted council and administration for not telling residents there was a deal in place during the May 28 meeting in Ward 1. A draft agreement of the deal, dated for May 1, was included in the agenda package, which was released several days before Monday’s meeting. Dionne and others argued they weren’t misleading the public, since council hadn’t formally approved any agreement.
City manager Jim Toye, who did not attend the May 28meeting, also denied any wrongdoing from city administration. However, he did apologize for how it was handled after repeated questioning from Ward 1 Coun. Terra Lennox-Zepp.
“There was certainly a failure in our process. I take full responsibility for that failure,” Toye said during the exchange. Dionne then interrupted Toye to say the city manager had nothing to apologize for because he was just following instructions.
Toye also said an issue like this normally would have gone before executive committee before heading to a regular meeting.
Lennox-Zepp was one of the deals most vocal opponents, and her questioning generated further outbursts, specifically from Dionne and Coun. Don Cody, who objected to how Toye was—in their opinion—being treated like he was a suspect on the witness stand and not a city employee.
Lennox-Zepp clarified that she didn’t doubt the PAGC’s sincerity, or their commitment to the community, but worried the city wasn’t taking proper precautions because the item hadn’t been discussed at executive committee.
“Every other item that we debate at city council, we are told, has to be heard at executive committee for a full discussion before we vote on it at a formal city council,” she said during her exchange with Toye. “That is the practice. That is the procedure.”
Lennox-Zepp also proposed two amendments to the deal, both of which were voted down by 5-4 margins. One of those amendments would have prevented the PAGC from selling the property, while also keeping it open for public use in perpetuity. The amendment would also see the property returned to the city if the PAGC ran into financial difficulties in operating it. The other amendment would have sent the item back to committee for further study.
Lennox-Zepp said the first amendment was simply about responsible stewardship, however not all on council took it that way. Tensions flared when Zurakowski said the amendment amounted to calling the PAGC liars, a statement which brought protests from Lennox-Zepp on a point-of-order and forced Dionne to call for calm.
“This motion turns to (the PAGC) and says, ‘we don’t believe you, and so we want it (written) in stone,’” Zurakowski said once order had been restored. “This is equal and tantamount to a government coming to you and saying, ‘you are not allowed to deal with your own property, because we don’t trust you,’ and I apologize for that. I’m looking forward to working with the PAGC in this partnership, and other partnerships.”
Couns. Dennis Nowoselsky and Evert Botha were the other two council members to vote against the deal. Botha said asbestos concerns in Angus Mirasty School made him uncomfortable with the deal, as did the lack of financial projections in the proposal. Nowoselsky said he would prefer to run Parkland in partnership with the PAGC, rather than trade it to them.
“I see it as a great win—a win for the grand council—and a loss for Prince Albert,” Nowoselsky added.
“The rest of the report that we are presented with and that the public is presented with, does not include the financial projections of everything that we have to put into that lot, should we possibly develop that land for sale,” Botha said. “Is there a number we can share with the public as to what we need to spend, over and above the demolition of the Angus Mirasty School? Should we develop this into a possible residential development? I think those are very valid answers that we need, and numbers that should be presented to the public before we can make a decision.”
As part of the agreement, the PAGC has to provide a report showing the building is asbestos free.
PAGC ready to work with community as it takes over Parkland Hall
PAGC representatives say they’re eager to embrace their new responsibilities in the West Flat now that they own the Parkland Recreation Centre and lot.
PAGC justice director Rick Sanderson, who helped negotiate the deal, said he understands there are some concerns from the community. However, he emphasized that the PAGC wants to help.
“We want to be a part of this community,” Sanderson explained following Monday’s meeting. “Like Grand Chief Hardlotte said, we’re not only based out of Prince Albert, we are part of this community, and we see the problems and concerns. We want to be part of the solution.”
Sanderson called Parkland Hall was a valuable facility that wasn’t “being used to its full potential.” He’s hoping the PAGC can work with local residents to make sure that happens.
The PAGC says they want to expand programing in the facility, not limit it. Their primary focus will be on youth activities, although seniors and families will also be included.
That was part of the appeal for city councillors who voted in favour of the land swap. Ward 6 Coun. Blake Edwards said they’ve looked for volunteers to help keep the Parkland centre up and running. However,
“The fact remains, unfortunately, that this place hasn’t done very well over the last couple of years,” Edwards said during the meeting. “It’s actually not been very good at all. Last year, the skating rink was open, but the kids had to change their skates outside because the room to change was not open, and that’s sad for me to hear.”
“This was city ran because organizations or community members weren’t able to take over,” he continued. “The fact is, we didn’t have a group come forward to take over the community club, and to run a community club, you need board members, and board members are becoming harder and harder to find each year.”
The City of Prince Albert began operating Parkland Community Club in August 2017 after terminating the operating agreement with North Sask. Métis Nation Local 269. The city subsequently received two offers to operate the club, but both were turned down because the city didn’t think they could take on the responsibility.
The city then put out a formal request for an “expression of interest” from local groups who could take over the club, with the goal of handing over operations by Jan. 1, 2019.