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Seasonal field house, fitness area approved for Fenlands rec centre

“I think the key principle is to have it inclusive and affordable and accessible so I am really excited to see this become more of a year-round facility for residents.”
Banff Fenlands Rec Centre.

BANFF – A seasonal indoor field house and fitness area have been given the go-ahead at the Fenlands recreation centre in under-utilized areas and space left vacated by a former hockey school while a major multi-million dollar renovation is further explored.

On Monday (Jan. 24), council voted 6-1 in favour of a removable indoor turf field for Arena 2 from mid-April to mid-September for seasonal rental this year, as well as a drop-in cardio and free-weight room in the physio room of the former Banff Hockey Academy (BHA).

On a 5-2 vote, council also decided to put a $1.6 million placeholder in future budgets for the design of a multi-million dollar large-scale renovation of the Fenlands, which could include a fitness centre, indoor climbing or bouldering, arts and culture space and meeting areas.

Based on results of public engagement that followed the departure of the BHA in 2020, Town of Banff officials say the plans for the future of the Fenlands reflect voices of both current and future users of this facility, with 81 per cent in favour of using the vacated space for community programs and services.

“I am really excited that we get to reimagine what the space at the Fenlands can look like,” said Mayor Corrie DiManno.

“I think the key principle is to have it inclusive and affordable and accessible so I am really excited to see this become more of a year-round facility for residents.”

The $216,380 price tag for the seasonal indoor turf and small weight room will be split 50-50 between the Town of Banff and Wim and Nancy Pauw Foundation. The Bow Valley Primary Care Network has provided $65,000 worth of gym equipment.

The Banff Hockey Academy, which relocated operations to Dunmore near Medicine Hat for the 2020-21 season and is now known as the South Alberta Hockey Academy, occupied about 3,750-square-feet of space for exclusive use at the Fenlands.

BHA paid $40,000 per year for the exclusive use of the space, plus a portion of utilities. The lease rate did not account for insurance, lease administration or proportionate share of common space maintenance. It was estimated that the BHA lease rate was approximately 69 per cent below market.

The public consultation on how best to use the space did not include a request for feedback or recommendations that would see the removal of any ice sheets for skating, ringette, hockey or curling in the winter months or that would require a major expansion.

Councillor Ted Christensen lost the face-off in his ongoing bid for the municipality to find a new hockey school to take over space at the Fenlands recreation centre vacated by the BHA.

“My concern is still that we haven’t fully explored the possibility of having another hockey academy or another private partner – and this is to offset the costs,” he said.

Coun. Christensen said he believes the timing of the public consultation with the COVID-19 pandemic had a lot to do with the calls for a field house.

“I think that partly it was because it came at a time when our community was struggling for facilities with our Banff Elementary School gymnasium being closed and our Banff Centre being closed and a number of other private facilities being closed,” he said.

“I would still like to see exploration of having a private partner, whether it be a hockey academy or another type of school that would bring in outside funds into not just our Fenlands, but to our school system.”

Based on the public feedback, the priorities for the under-utilized or vacated spaces were a fitness centre with cardio machines, free weights, stationary equipment, dry-land training; indoor climbing or bouldering space; flexible arts and culture space and meeting areas.

At Monday’s meeting, council voted 5-2 to approve design costs of $538,000 in pre-design in 2024 and $1.06 million in detailed design in 2025. The capital costs, which currently have a very rough estimate of $10.8 million, would be nailed down during the design process.

The issue will be back on the table at the 2023 service review for further discussion. Administration was also instructed to seek third party funding for the large-scale renovation and consult local businesses in the fitness industry.

“The intention of the design exercise would be to scope out the specific details of this project and return to council with a more accurate total project cost prior to obtaining approval from council for tendering,” said Amanda Arbuckle, the Town of Banff’s recreation services manager.

Councillor Hugh Pettigrew, who has consistently raised concerns about the increasing tax burden on residents during the 2022 service review, said he was reluctant to set aside any money at this point in time, preferring to have a council workshop or discuss more thoroughly at the 2023 service review.

“I am not in favour of spending anything at this point with the information we have,” he said.

Coun. Pettigrew also raised concerns about the need for additional staff for any renovation of the Fenlands may require.

“As a whole we see budget creep every year, and what I mean by budget creep is we have additional positions added all the time,” he said, noting even if the positions are added for good reasons.

Councillor Chip Olver voiced support for the placeholder design dollars in 2024 and 2025.

“I think it shows an intent from council that we do want to see renovations at the Fenlands to make it more of a year-round facility rather than it just being referred to as the hockey facility,” she said.

Almost 60 per cent of survey participants in the consultation process for the future of the Fenlands supported a permanent field house, which could support activities like soccer and lacrosse, somewhere in the Bow Valley.

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