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Business case for St. Albert's future rec centre expected early next year

The recreation centre being planned for the city's west end is expected to cost between $80-110 million to build, but the city will soon have a better idea of how much it might cost to operate the facility.
A digital rendering of the council-approved concept plan for the future recreation centre in St. Albert. SCREENSHOT/City of St. Albert

The City of St. Albert is looking to hire a consultant to put together a business case for the future recreation centre slated for the city's west end.

Council approved a concept plan for the facility, which will be located west of Ray Gibbon Drive and immediately south of Villeneuve Road, last summer. The conceptual design includes a pool with space for recreational and competitive swimming; an ice rink; a gym and fitness facility; outdoor sports courts for pickleball and tennis; an outdoor spray park; and an outdoor bike skills park. The concept plan also designates space for a school next door.

READ MORE: Council votes down changes to future rec-centre site plan

As of July 2023, the future facility is estimated to cost between $80-$110 million to build.

With this conceptual plan nailed down, the city's next step in planning the project is to get a better idea of what will be involved with actually running the facility, and the city published a request for proposals (RFP) earlier this month looking for consultants to make their case for figuring out those details on behalf of the city.

“The City of St. Albert is seeking a consultant with recreation experience to oversee the delivery of an operating business case, and [a] partnership opportunity review for a concept level community recreation centre,” the RFP reads, adding that the city will ideally receive the final reports in January 2025.

“The business case will validate and establish baseline operating assumptions for the [recreation centre, such as]... corporate impacts and alignment with existing facilities and programs; customer demographics; five year operating forecast, including phased development recommendations; market opportunities and threats; price sensitivities; fees and charges opportunities within the current rates and philosophy; facility mandate/focus; [and] market trends.”

The “partnership opportunity review,” meanwhile, will involve the consultant “identifying, in general, opportunities for capital and operating partnership; studies of partnership experiences, in similar sized Canadian municipalities, that reflect the identified partnership opportunities; [identifying] market/context factors that may limit the relevance of partnership models that exist in larger or small municipalities;” and more, the RFP says.

Multiple city councillors the Gazette spoke too said they'll be interested to see what comes out of the partnership opportunity review, but each said they don't think the city will find a project partner that will significantly reduce the initial building cost.

“If there are opportunities, that'd be great,” said Coun. Ken MacKay. “It could include inter-municipal opportunities, or it might be something more along the lines of maybe looking at what's out there for a partnership opportunity with an organization like the YMCA.”

St. Albert currently has an inter-municipal cost sharing agreement with Sturgeon County, which involves the County giving St. Albert annual funding to help pay for existing recreation facilities, like Servus Place, which is used by Sturgeon County residents. The idea behind the agreement is that since county residents use the facility but St. Albert doesn't receive property tax dollars from those residents to help pay for the facility on an annual basis, the county provides St. Albert with funding to make up for the difference.

READ MORE: St. Albert, Sturgeon County sign recreation cost-sharing agreement

The two municipalities entered into the three-year agreement in the spring of 2023, and this year the county is giving St. Albert about $265,000. The agreement stipulates that the city can use the funding to off-set operational costs at facilities like Servus Place, or to pay for existing capital costs, but not towards capital costs for new facilities like the future rec centre in the west end.

Coun. Mike Killick said he doesn't think any new inter-municipal cost sharing agreements will come about as part of the partnership opportunity review, namely because many municipalities in the region have recently decided to move forward with new facilities on their own, such as the City of Edmonton's $311 million rec centre in the Lewis Farm's neighbourhood, construction on which got underway last summer.

“I think most of the municipalities are already moving ahead with recreation facilities by themselves,” Killick said. “I would be open and, honestly, hopeful if this study and the consultants... could find something or discover something through their analysis that we previously hadn't looked at... but I don't see that as being a large chunk of what could come out of it.”

For Coun. Sheena Hughes, one major part of the business case she'll be looking for is how much it would cost the city to operate the new facility once or if it's developed.

“Servus Place continues to be heavily subsidized by taxpayers with no end in sight and I want to know how, out of the gate, this can be minimized — if not brought to zero — [with the new facility],” Hughes said, referring to how Servus Place operates at a deficit, which she sees as a major problem whereas other members of council expect the facility to operate at a deficit rather than make a profit or break even.

RELATED: St. Albert's Servus Place posts $1.6M operating deficit in 2023

“What I'm looking for is no surprises in the expected build costs, and an accurate cost for operating because the last thing that we want to do is be into this at 50 per cent, and then find out the costs are 100 per cent higher.”

Hughes also said she's hoping the business case will lay out the required steps to build the new facility in phases, rather than all at once.

Jack Farrell

About the Author: Jack Farrell

Jack Farrell joined the Thestreetgypsies in May, 2022.
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