Council rejects motion asking for report on earlier opening dates for outdoor rec facilities

Jayda Taylor/Daily Herald Prince Albert residents enjoy a dip in the Kinsmen Water Park pool on Friday, June 2, 2023.

Prince Albert City Council voted down a Notice of Motion from Ward 2 Coun. Terra Lennox-Zepp to have City administrators prepare a report on opening outdoor recreation facilities like the Kinsmen Water Park earlier in the year.

Council voted against the motion by a 7-2 margin at their meeting on Monday, with only Lennox-Zepp and Coun. Tony Head voting in favour. Lennox-Zepp said she’s had calls from a number of residents who wanted to know why those facilities couldn’t be opened earlier, and added that having the data would help council make a more informed decision.

“It really comes down to priorities at budget time, and maybe it’s not something that council would want to pay for … however, it just seems as though it’s something that we should at least have a dollar figure,” she told council. “There’s some value in having that knowledge so we can make our decisions with knowledge.”

Mayor Greg Dionne said this isn’t the first time council has had this discussion, and the numbers have never worked out.

Dionne said the Kinsmen Water Park relies on seasonal staff made up primarily of high school and university students, the latter of which are rarely available for full-time shifts until after the May long weekend.

“I’ve seen this report three times now in my career here,” he told council. “We would all like it open earlier. If we could solve the problem of the university students and staffing, that’s the only problem. We can’t open something without staff.”

Dionne said he’d like to have spray parks open earlier in the year, especially if temperatures rise quickly in May, but said the City runs into more staffing problems.

“You can’t open something without staff,” he said.

“There would be staff required to go around thaw them (the spray parks) and put all the equipment back on because they take quite a bit of the stuff around and they winterise it.”

Parks and Recreation Director Jodi Boulet confirmed that the item had come up before. He said they don’t always know when warm weather will arrive, meaning there will be some years were weeks of warm weather passes before the splash parks and pools open.

This year, the Kinsmen Water Park officially opened on June 2, however Environment Canada weather data shows Prince Albert temperatures rising above 20 C on May 2, with a monthly high of 30 C on May 16.

“There are years where we don’t get that warmer weather, and then that demand isn’t there from the public,” he said during the meeting. “We’ve tried to balance that out over time. This comes down to staffing, as has been noted. It also comes down to competing priorities. We have to also recall the staff that has the responsibility of getting the splash pads and the washrooms up and running also have the responsibility of getting the irrigation up and running throughout the entire city.”

Boulet said they try to prioritize splash pads in years like 2023 where the May temperature heats up quickly. However, he added that staffing challenges mean it’s not feasible to open the Kinsmen Water Park earlier than usual.

“The staff don’t return until just after the May long weekend,” Boulet explained. “We then have a requirement, because of the certifications that are required with the lifeguards, to do an orientation when they return. That orientation takes that first week just after the May long weekend, so about four days, to get up and running … and then we plan to open that first Friday in June every year.

“We certainly heard the pressure this year … because of the weather,” Boulet added. “However, please keep in mind in the years where we don’t get that weather early on in the season, we don’t get that demand.”

Couns. Blake Edwards and Dennis Ogrodnick both spoke against the motion. Ogrodnick said the city would have to shift its priorities and hire more staff to open those facilities sooner, something he didn’t support. Edwards told council he had many of the same concerns as Dionne, but also didn’t want administration to take up time with another report.

“Our directors and our staff are busy,” he said. “We have a lot of demands on them…. I don’t think this is necessary, and it’s a cost to the City that we don’t need.”

Coun. Tony Head was the only councillor besides Lennox-Zepp to speak in favour of the motion. He echoed her concerns about the need for data to make an informed decision.

“All we’re asking on this motion is for a report,” he said during the meeting. “Yes, it may be a quick one to say it’s impossible or hears what it’s going to cost the residents, which would make it an easier decision for us in budget deliberations.”