Edmonton

Lewis Farms Recreation Centre shelved amid budget crunch

The long-awaited $321-million Lewis Farms Recreation Centre in west Edmonton was officially put on hold Thursday as council looks for savings in the capital budget. 

First of many city projects on chopping block amid provincial cutbacks

West-end residents have been waiting for a recreation centre for several years, as envisioned here in a rendering of the Lewis Farms Recreation Facility and Park. (City of Edmonton)

The long-awaited $321-million Lewis Farms Recreation Centre in west Edmonton was officially put on hold Thursday as council looks for savings in the capital budget. 

The recreation centre and library has been several years in the works and 60 per cent of the design is complete, city administration said. 

On the second day of budget deliberations, councillors unanimously agreed to shelve it for now but not axe it completely so millions in design and preparation legwork can be salvaged later. 

Coun. Andrew Knack, who's been pushing for the project for several years, reluctantly voted in favour of deferral.

"This is incredibly disappointing, this is something that's long overdue," Knack said after the vote. "The residents who live in that area have a gap in both recreation facilities and library space."

Rebecca Goldsack, president of Lewis Estates community league, has been involved in the project for about five years.

The community got its hopes up earlier this spring when city council approved funding to move forward with the design portion, she said. 

"This has definitely hit us hard," Goldsack said Thursday evening. "It was definitely disappointing news today." 

She said west-end residents have helped pay for renovations to other rec centres, so they feel left out.

Coun. Andrew Knack has been pushing for the project for several years but reluctantly voted in favour of deferral. (Peter Evans/CBC)

Deferring the Lewis Farms rec centre is estimated to save the city $500,000 in debt servicing costs in 2020, and inch the tax levy down by 0.01 per cent that year, 0.04 per cent in 2021 and 0.18 per cent in 2022. 

Mayor Don Iveson recognized the hit the deferral will have on west end residents, who many times in the past urged council to support the project. 

"We gave certainty to folks in the west end and to the folks that were hoping to build this project, that we were going to move ahead with it," Iveson said. 

Iveson took direct aim at the province for its recent budget cuts — and reneging on the legislated city charter agreements that gave Edmonton and Calgary more control over how they spend their money.

"Our fiscal situation has been fundamentally altered by the government of Alberta," Iveson said. "Very tangibly this loss of that corresponds to the loss and delay on this rec centre." 

The province's cuts amount to $185 million less for infrastructure in the 2019-2022 capital budget. 

As such, on Thursday council also agreed to defer a co-located dispatch and emergency operations centre. 

That deferral saves about $1 million in operating money for 2020 — about 0.06 per cent of the proposed tax increase. 

@natashariebe

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