by Lucie Roy
The 2008 Athabasca Multiplex Project was the topic at the June 3 Rotary meeting. More than 40 Rotary members and guests, including elected officials from Sturgeon County, Redwater, Bon Accord and Morinville, as well as representatives from both school divisions, came out to hear guest speaker Robert Balay.
Balay was the Multiplex Fundraising Chair and Coordinator for the Athabasca project and heavily involved in putting the facility together over time. He spent seven years as CAO for the Athabasca Regional Multiplex Society.
His half-hour presentation covered the history of the Athabasca Multiplex project, the collaboration between municipalities, fundraising initiatives, project governance, and governance of the facility once completed.
Balay said the project started with a needs assessment. “It was determined the number one priority was that the community wanted to see a multiplex use facility built, with stress on multi-use. [It was] to become a recreational hub, and also to be used as a community center and conference center,” Balay told Rotarians.
A number of committees were formed by the town and county to facilitate the project and to determine what should go in it. The speaker spoke of the arrangement between the town and county in seeing the project to completion. As the two municipalities wanted and needed to have control when it came down to the actual amount of money being spent, the Executive Committee was composed of both town and county CAOs, Regional Recreation Director, mayor, county reeve and two councillors from each municipality. Balay said the committee reported to the Joint Town Council and each council had to ratify any decision that was brought forward.
“To begin with we had some pretty grand ideas, but reality eventually sunk in,” Balay said. “There was a budget but only so much money the community could afford. Had we been able to make up our minds a little sooner – our project from the time we first started to the time we actually said let’s go doubled in cost.
“I wish we could have done it a bit sooner because it would have saved us money and we would have been able to build everything that we wanted. But we did have to scale it back but in the end we have a facility that suits our needs very well.”
Balay advised Morinville to seize current market opportunities. “Right now is a pretty good economic time to go out to tender, there is a lot of appetite out there so [you] should be able to do pretty good if you are ready to go,” he said.
He advocated for the collaborative approach in building such a facility.
“That was very important,” Balay said. “When you work collaboratively that will be the case. You will find that if you have three or four municipalities doing a project together, which is maybe what you are looking at, that will probably be the same process you will go through.”
His closing message was that good things can happen when different sectors of the community work together and municipalities.
“Neighbouring municipalities are willing to work together for the common goal,” he said. “I think we [Athabasca] are a good example that things can happen, and the benefits are enormous.”