Motion to borrow $30 million for new recreation centre passes by slim 5-4 margin

Prince Albert's new Aquatic and Arenas Recreation Centre is estimated to open in the summer of 2024 -- submitted by the City of Prince Albert

Prince Albert City Council has passed the motion to borrow $30 million to fund the construction of the new Aquatic and Arenas Recreation Centre and have awarded the project tender to Graham Construction LP.

The $30 million loan is expected to cost an estimated $2.5 million annually over the next 35 years, which will be paid partly through the Civic Facilities Levy and the rest funded through taxation from the Yard Development. 

The motion also included raising the City’s debt limit to $120 million, ranking Prince Albert 6th out of 16 cities in the province for highest per capita debt. 

“Inflationary pressures are not going away,” said Mayor Greg Dionne. “I’m pleased we were able to find a way forward that gets this important facility built for families and children in Prince Albert.”

Councillors Charlene Miller, Dennis Ogrodnick, Tony Head, and Terra Lennox-Zepp all opposed the motion, stating the risk is too much for the City to take on. 

“At what point do we say the cost is too great?” said Coun. Head. “It’s too much for our residents to live here.”

The City originally had a budget of $60 million for the recreation facility, with $44 million coming from the federal and provincial governments, but the new estimated cost has been bumped up to $113.8 million due to inflation. 

Finance Manager for the City of Prince Albert, Briane Vance, said the project can still continue without raising taxes for residents despite the added cost, but Coun. Lennox-Zepp disagreed.

“To say that there will be no additional tax increases as a result of this project is not accurate,” she said.

Lennox-Zepp stated the $1.5 million from the Civic Facilities Levy is already committed to other needs, which Council will now have to replace if the funds are redirected to the $2.5 million annual debt payment.

Ward 5 Councillor Dennis Ogrodnick previously expressed his disappointment with the inflated cost during the last Executive Committee meeting. He said he supports the project and voted in favour of every motion, but promised his residents the budget would not increase.

While discussions from both sides of the motion were heard during Monday’s City Council meeting, Coun. Don Cody had the last word before votes were cast. He emphasized the need to continue with the project.

“I think we have an opportunity here to build something good for the community,” he said. “It’s good for all of us and it will attract people into the community.

“If it’s too big of a price tag now, I can assure you that it will be too big a price tag in six months, a year, or six years.”

The increased funding plan passed 5-4 thanks to support from Mayor Greg Dionne and Couns. Don Cody, Dawn Kilmer, Ted Zurakowski, and Blake Edwards.

City Council then moved on to award the construction tender for the new recreation centre to Graham Construction of Saskatoon. The approval of the construction tender means the project will break ground this summer, with a grand opening scheduled for 2024.

Over the past year, the City has been working with architects to design the facility, including the review and approval of thousands of drawings and pages of specifications that cover elements of architectural, civil, landscaping, structural, mechanical, and electrical.

Wes Hicks, Director of Public Works, said City staff met with the new contractor and architects and asked them to look for savings after receiving bid prices 35 per cent above the pre-tender estimate.

Discussions over alternative equipment and material options took place weekly since the bid’s closure last month. The City says they’ve found 49 cost-saving items that do not impact the facility’s programming or operations, saving an estimated $6.6 million.

Hicks said that Graham Construction is anxious to get started on the project, which they estimate will take around 24 months to complete. Equipment is expected to be on-site within the next few weeks.

“This is an exciting project for our community. We are already seeing that this will not only be a hub for recreation in Prince Albert, but also a new entertainment district that will include hotels, restaurants and retail stores,” said Mayor Greg Dionne. 

“It will be an attractive amenity for not only our families that live here, but those that are considering Prince Albert as a place to live.”