by Tristan Turner
At their June 12 meeting, council received a slew of updates from administration on Morinville’s biggest ever capital project, their new arena and rec facility. Different members of administration addressed segments of the project update, from operations to finance and construction progress.
Construction update shows the project is so far “on time and under-budget”
Jim Gourlay, the Senior Project Manager for the rec centre project had a positive message for council on the progress so far on construction of the centre. Despite some recent rains impeding about a week of work, the project has been coming along on schedule as expected.
Gourlay reported that he holds biweekly meetings with onsite staff to examine and track every element of the project and ensure things are progressing. One site tour for early work has already taken place in May, and following a unanimous vote of council that evening, another site tour will be planned to include Sturgeon County Council along with Councillors from other municipalities in the region sometime in the coming months.
Gourlay laid out the plan for project stages on the lot, including: Concrete pouring in July, servicing and grade completion in September along with weather tightening, parking lot completion in October, bleacher installation in November and building the first sheet of ice in April.
Gourlay said that he expects the project should be open sometime in May, which is in-line with previous projections, adding that the project overall is so far “coming in on time and under-budget.”
Financial update details $30.5 million investment
Morinville’s CFO Shawna Jason reported to Council on the financial state of the project, reminding council about the various figures that go into the project.
Overviewing the costs of the Project, Jason broke down the centre’s $30.5 million price tag. The 77 acre lot (which has other intended uses, including a monument, potential future museum and other recreation sites) cost $1,7 million, approved in 2015. $4.5 million was the cost of the initial servicing costs for the plot, approved in 2016. In 2017, council approved a $24.3 million bill for construction of the arena and fieldhouse.
Jason also shared again that if assuming the “worst case scenario” for raising sponsorship funding for the project, Morinville would accumulate an additional $22,020,000 in capital debt after securing long-term financing, which still leaves them with $4,459,108 in room before Morinville hits its self-imposed debt limit.
Jason also shared some information on some new grant opportunities for the site, saying that she has been working toward submitting applications for a government grant that could cover up to 40% of the costs of the project, which would save the Town over $10 Million.
Regardless, assuming the Town continues to receive annual Municipal Sustainability Initiative and Federal Gas Tax funding, the project should be comfortably paid for according to Jason. Despite being the most expensive project in the Town’s history, Morinville taxpayers should not see any change to their tax rates due to the capital portion of the project.
Council rescinds public plebiscite motion
That evening, Jason recommended that council rescind Motion 56/2016 made by Councillor Dafoe last term, which would have triggered an automatic plebiscite for Morinville residents to vote on the rec centre project if it would take more than five years to pay back loans taken for the centre. The current estimated debenture terms of upcoming long-term financing for the project is up to 20 years, blowing far past the 5-year plebiscite trigger.
Councillor Dafoe himself made the motion to rescind his own Motion 56/2016 “reluctantly”, saying that “the scope of this project has changed substantially since we were first talking about it [at council]… then we were only considering building a replacement arena as phase one of the project, but an opportunity presented itself to get a field house for half-price [by including it in phase 1], and we took it.”
Mayor Turner supported the rescinding of the motion, adding that the project is still in the petition period where residents could collect signatures and launch a plebiscite on the long-term borrowing for the facility if they so choose.
Tabled operational plan recommends operating from 5:30 AM to 10 PM
David Schaefer, Morinville’s Director of Corporate Operations, presented that evening on a draft service level proposal on operating the new centre once it is complete. The service plan includes an overview of services provided (from hockey games to the running track and field house) as well as suggests an opening and closing time of 5:30 AM and 10 PM, respectively.
Council noted some uncertainty about elements of the plan, with Councillor Boutestein questioning why it included a reference to a fitness room when she had thought it was clear in the past that there would only be sporadic equipment throughout the centre, but not a dedicated exercise or fitness room, and that she wanted to make it clear that the Town was not going to be “taking away business” from local gyms.
CAO Labonne responded that that was not intended to be the message of the service level plan and that it will be corrected in the future.
Councillor Hall noted concerns she had about the estimated costs for membership in the draft, questioning that the $1,100 annual family pass may be a bit too expensive for some in the community. Schaefer noted that the planned rates were inline with similar facilities in Alberta and would bring the centre closer towards cost recovery.