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Recreation plan in the works for MD of Bonnyville

Stephen Slawuta, partner with Edmonton-based company RC Strategies + PERC, gave MD council an outline of what the recreation master plan draft looks like during their Feb. 19 committee meeting. Photo by Robynne Henry.

BONNYVILLE – Recreation continues to be top-of-mind for MD of Bonnyville council.

Stephen Slawuta, partner with Edmonton-based company RC Strategies + PERC, presented a draft recreation master plan to council during the Feb. 19 committee meeting.

“It’s an opportunity to help outline some future areas of priority or focus areas for council and administration,” he detailed. “It’s also to identify some areas that will optimize recreation investment and find ways that you can do things more effectively than you are right now.”

The document will be a point of reference to guide future decision-making and priority setting when it comes to recreation within the MD of Bonnyville. It includes an inventory of campgrounds, community halls, boat launches, playgrounds, ball diamonds, and ski hills within the area, as well as provides recommendations on ways the municipality could improve recreation moving forward.

To develop the master plan, Slawuta explained they used information previously gathered by the MD through open houses and stakeholder consultations over the past two years.  

“We want to make sure the master plan aligns with other planning you’ve done,” he added.

Slawuta stressed the importance of considering what’s currently being offered by the MD in order to see how they could do better. The document classified recreational services into two approaches: direct and indirect delivery.

“Direct delivery is things that you’re delivering directly using your staff and operating facilities. Kinosoo Ridge would be a prime example of that. A lot of what you do is through indirect delivery, where you’re providing funding or in-kind resources to other organizations, whether it’s under other municipalities or community groups in the area, that essentially deliver recreation on behalf of the MD.”

To gauge the success of recreation in the municipality, the document outlines specific service delivery goals: personal health and wellness, community connectedness and appeal, financial sustainability, environmental sustainability, and economic vibrancy. The plan pinpoints 12 strategies to assist the MD with accomplishing these goals.

“Some of them are intended to shift what you’re already doing to some degree, while others are simply intended to reinvent things that you’re already doing and things that you’re doing quite well, because overall, you’re doing a very good job at delivering recreation,” said Slawuta. “When we asked in previous surveys for levels of satisfaction, a majority of residents were satisfied with the level they’re getting.”

Slawuta explained how sustaining current funding levels for grant programs and developing a more defined and transparent evaluation protocol would “add a little bit more structure for why you’re giving out the money that you are.”

Assisting groups receiving financial support from the municipality with strategic planning could also be beneficial in the long-run.

“We heard from a lot of these groups that they’re kind of struggling or they’re facing difficulties,” Slawuta noted. “A lot of groups told us they would like a bit of help strategic planning themselves. They get caught up in the day-to-day of what they’re doing and for you to protect your investment, the grant money you’re giving, it’s probably worthwhile to make sure that they’re in a position to use that money and be sustainable moving forward.”

Creating a recreation pass would allow residents facing financial restrictions access to the MD’s recreational services.

“There are organizations out there right now, like KidSport Bonnyville, that help with organized sports costs, but in terms of people just wanting to access your recreation facilities to shoot hoops or participate in programs, there isn’t really anything… in place across the region here,” detailed Slawuta.

Advertising classes and programs was another subject Slawuta touched on. He said this strategy could assist community groups that may be struggling to get the participation they’re hoping for and let others know what’s happening in their own backyard.

When it comes to future recreational development, the plan recommends council utilize a project evaluation framework. The three-step process would help ensure it aligns with the MD’s priorities and there’s a demand from residents. Proposed projects would be assessed based on resident demand, utilization indicators, capital and operating costs, and recreation benefit gap, among others.

As an example, Slawuta outlined how the formula ranked the priority of eight projects the MD is considering. A new aquatics centre came in at number one, followed by an outdoor recreation park, a destination outdoor rink, and a new performing arts building.

Although Coun. Dana Swigart wasn’t surprised to see what came out on top, he was a little shocked with the proposed location of the aquatics centre being at the Bonnyville and District Centennial Centre.

“Right now, we’d probably say it would be at the C2 because it’s in this document. We haven’t made that decision yet… and I was hoping for your guidance on that,” noted Swigart.

Slawuta explained the information was based on the feasibility study conducted, which had the C2 as the proposed site. 

Establishing a minimum outdoor recreation amenity service regulation, which would determine what each hamlet or community should have for recreation facilities, ensuring existing recreation infrastructure is sustainable before contemplating new capital development, and working collaboratively with regional partners to enhance the training and supports available to groups were also among the strategies.

RC Strategies + PERC will be organizing open houses to get feedback from residents before presenting an updated plan to council again in the coming months.

Robynne Henry, Bonnyville Nouvelle

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