Edmonton's future rec centres at risk as city faces budget demands

Edmonton city council may face some tough decisions this fall as the next four-year budget comes up for debate. Infrastructure projects need funding to move ahead in the 2019-2022 budget cycle, including the Lewis Farms Facility and Park, which has been in the works conceptually for several years.

With rising interest rates and inflation, city council cautioned on taking on more debt

The Commonwealth Community Recreation Centre is one of four mega recreation facilities the city opened in 2015. (CBC)

Edmonton city council may face some tough decisions this fall as the next four-year budget comes up for debate.

Several infrastructure projects need funding to move ahead in the 2019-2022 budget cycle, including the Lewis Farms Facility and Park, which has been in the works conceptually for several years.

Councillor Andrew Knack thinks there is a strong case to keep the large-scale recreation centre and library on the books.

"When it comes to recreation, literacy, I think those are things that most people can get behind."

The estimated $230 million project is still in the preliminary phases with 28 per cent of the design completed as of June, according to the city's capital financial update posted last week.

But with rising interest rates and rising inflation, city finance staff are cautioning council it would be risky to keep borrowing the same way it has in the past.

Mayor Don Iveson said borrowing to build made sense over the past eight to 10 years when interest rates were low. 

"We still have a little bit more room to borrow but we need to be really selective about what we use that borrowing capacity for," he said.  

Iveson didn't single out Lewis Farms as being at risk but said future projects are up for discussion.  

"Rec centres and other expensive things like that may be tougher to buy in the coming years with rising costs and rising interest rates." 
Coun. Andrew Knack wants the city to stay on track with building a recreation centre and library at Lewis Farms in the west end. (CBC )

The mayor suggested a new funding "tool" could re-allocate costs based on the neighbourhood the facility will serve.

"How does that area of the city contribute perhaps a little bit more so that the burden on the rest of the tax base is less?"

Knack said if council can find savings in other areas, such as delaying non-urgent road widening, they can salvage future projects, including Lewis Farms.

"Selfishly as the councillor that represents the area, I don't want to see that one sacrificed."

Beyond the Anthony Henday

Knack said he doesn't want the city to wait another 40 years to build needed amenities for areas beyond the Anthony Henday ring road. 

"Pretty much every community outside the Henday, whether in the southeast, the southwest, west, northwest, doesn't matter — there's a pretty big need for those types of amenities," he said. "So I would hope that we're not going to sacrifice critical amenities like that."

The design portion of the Lewis Farms is expected to be finished by the first part of 2020 and the city then plans to start looking for a building contractor.

The recreation centre includes an aquatic facility, a fitness centre, three gymnasiums, indoor ice rinks and multi-purposes areas for child minding and development. 

An updated 10-year recreation facility master plan is due out this fall, following a report from 2005-2015 in which Lewis Farms was identified as an area needing a new recreation centre. 

Windermere, Heritage Valley, Ellerslie and Lake District/Pilot Sound were also identified in the report as neighbourhoods that will need new facilities to accommodate population growth after 2015.

@natashariebe