Second rink at Centennial arena debated
Election 2013: Candidates disagree on necessity of project
By: Don Patterson
| Posted: Wednesday, Oct 09, 2013 06:00 am
Okotoks' population is young and growing rapidly meaning the need for additional recreation facilities has become a hot topic among candidates vying for a spot on town council and with sports groups and parents who are calling for more space.
While candidates for Okotoks mayor and council can agree on the need for new community and recreation infrastructure, there is some debate on just how quickly the Town needs to build major new facilities like a second ice rink at the Centennial Arena.
Mayor Bill Robertson said he believes a second rink at the Centennial Arena will be built in the next four years.
“If we start planning in two years and have it ready to open in the fourth year of the mandate, I think that will be good,” he said.
In the meantime, Robertson said the new arena at Heritage Heights opens Nov. 16 and it will help take some of the pressure off existing rinks in Okotoks.
As well, he said there is also an opportunity to establish an area along the river near the 32 Street Bridge for people to skate in the winter. When the Sheep River was re-aligned for the construction of the bridge, a section of the old river channel on both sides of 32 Street was left as a backwater area.
Robertson said this pond could be turned into a skating rink in the winter for a minimal cost to the Town.
“I believe we could probably get a 300m skating rink, which could be huge,” he said.
Robertson's opponent, mayoral candidate Larry AlbrectAlbrecht? said the Town needs to seriously think about whether or not Okotoks needs to build a second rink at the Centennial Arena right now.
“Right now I continue to hear that the tax rate is a concern for citizens so unless there is a pool of money sitting around waiting to be spent, I think we need to sit down and plan and budget for that facility,” he said.
Albrecht agreed the new Heritage Heights Arena will take some of the pressure off rinks in town, but during the campaign he said people bring up the issue of recreation facilities with caution.
“People raise it, but raise it in a more cautionary sense saying 'I hope you're not going to promise a new rink or promise a new cultural centre,'” he said. “My response is no, we need to look at it and plan for it.”
Albrecht said the Town does need to ensure its recreation facilities keep pace with growth to ensure what exists is adequate for people who call Okotoks home. For example, as the community's population ages, he said the Town will need to ensure facilities are appropriate and accessible.
He said the Town should also partner with the MD on new recreational infrastructure, partly to reduce the costs to the Town to build them.
Incumbent council candidate Ray Watrin said most of the Town's recreational needs are being met. He said the Foothills-Okotoks Field House will go along way to addressing lack of space issues for sports groups like soccer and lacrosse and the Heritage Heights Arena will ease the space crunch for ice rinks.
Yet, Watrin said Okotoks will still need more rink space and the Town needs to start planning for another arena.
“It's being pro-active down the road, we're growing,” he said. “I don't think we need to wait to we get to a situation where we say 'wait we need more of this.'”
Watrin said the Town could also look at ways to build more outdoor ice rinks to give people places to skate.
Council candidate Lynne Pelser Karch said there are already plans on the books to build a second rink at the Centennial Arena and land is available, but the question is whether the Town can afford it at this time.
“I guess if we can afford it we have a lot of people that want it,” she said. “We can't have everything we want.”
Council candidate Sean Tyler Foley said he doesn't think a second ice rink at the Centennial Arena is a priority.
He said it would be a better idea to build a mixed-use performing arts centre and recreation facility by the Centennial Arena. He doesn't just want a gym with a stage. Foley said an arts centre should have an auditorium with between 300 to 400 seats, along with multi-purpose rooms that can meet a range of different uses.
“If we're going to take the effort to look into expanding the Centennial complex, focusing strictly on an arena may not be the best use of resources,” he said.
Robertson said he favours partnering with the Foothills School Division to build a performing arts centre at the Foothills Composite High School. He said the school would be a good location with an existing parking lot. As well, he said the Town already owns land near the school site that could be used for an arts centre.
“It would be a great fit in terms of the community being able to use the centre in the evening and the school being able to utilize it in the day,” said Robertson.
Albrect said Okotoks would benefit from a performing arts centre, but the Town needs to ensure one can be built and operated in a cost-effective manner and wouldn't burden taxpayers.