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IanO
29-10-2006, 09:49 AM
Public access concerns stall rec centre deal
Financial burden borne by taxpayers should guarantee admission, Mayor and councillors say
Susan Ruttan, The Edmonton Journal
Published: Sunday, October 29, 2006

EDMONTON - Concerns over whether the general public will have access to recreational facilities are slowing down a final deal to build a large recreation centre in a joint project with the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.

City council is expected to approve the idea of the proposed centre this week.

It's also about to give its negotiators an extra year, until 2008, to finalize the details of a deal with NAIT and the provincial government.
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Of particular concern to some councillors is the fact that the city is to pay 38 per cent of the $75-million construction cost of the proposed North Central Community Recreation Centre, but NAIT, not the city, will be the sole owner of the facility.

"We provide more than a third of the initial capital, but we relinquish any rights to ownership," Coun. Linda Sloan said Saturday in an interview. "How do we maintain over the long term any access for citizens, if NAIT continues to grow and have a higher student population?"

While Sloan supports building a rec centre for north-central Edmonton, she said the deal will be a precedent for other partnerships the city will make, so the details are important.

Mayor Stephen Mandel raised a similar concern when the issue was discussed last week by council's community services committee.

"Are we going to get fair access to the gyms?" he asked.

There are very few recreational facilities in the low-income neighbourhoods around NAIT.

NAIT and the city want to expand and improve NAIT's 42-year-old gymnasium and 32-year-old activities centre, located on the south end of the campus off Princess Elizabeth Avenue, and open them to the public as well as to NAIT students and staff.

The resulting centre would have an ice arena, fitness centre, two gyms, three pools, an indoor playground, child care, and classrooms available to the community for meetings.

The city is expected to pay 38 per cent of construction costs, while NAIT will contribute only 23 per cent -- money it hopes to raise mainly by private donations. The remaining funds are to come from the provincial government, which has so far made no commitment.

The city will also pay about $600,000 a year to subsidize operating costs of the centre, and hopes the province will contribute an equal amount. NAIT will run the facility, but won't subsidize operating costs.

In June, council approved construction of a new $90-million recreation centre at Terwillegar Drive and 23rd Avenue. The city's southwest area and the north-central area are the two top priorities for recreation centres.

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The Edmonton Journal 2006