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Extra spending for proposed aquatic centre has yet to be approved

$12 million in extra municipal funding to $15 million gov't funded aquatic centre has yet to be approved
bold aquatic centre
A first-draft concept of the new, $27-million aquatic centre slated to be attached to the southeast facing side of the Bold Center. File-Lac La Biche County

Updated: This story has been updated  to clarify that the $12 million in additional funding for the proposed aquatic centre has yet to be approved by Lac La Biche County Council. The extra funding was added to the budget to offset conceptual ideas, but has yet to be approved for spending.

LAC LA BICHE - It’s all about public engagement for the future layout of the Lac La Biche County Aquatics Center, says the municipality’s Communications Manager Jihad Moghrabi. Lac La Biche County council plans to have the multi-use facility’s concept finalized by April of 2022, which will include various swimming pools and program rooms, says Moghrabi.

Community feedback is very important throughout the planning stage because it will help council provide a facility that county residents will utilize.

“It’s a big project like the Bold Center was, and we want to make sure the Aquatic Center meets the public’s needs for years to come. We want to make sure we get it right the first time,” says Moghrabi.

Since announcing plans to go ahead with the new aquatic more than a year ago, council’s engagement process has included the implementation of an online survey that wrapped up this month, social media posts and in the near future, a report detailing the results.

More funding

While council will work with the community on the facility’s amenities that will replace the outdated Portage Pool at Portage College, says Moghrabi, there are limitations due to the already-approved funding for the facility— $6 million from the federal government and $9 million provincially.

“There are certain features that we have as part of grant funding. We have a great portion from the federal government so there are certain features they want to include for sure. As far as the layout goes, this is a concept for people to look at and provide feedback on, so we definitely take that into consideration,” says Moghrabi.

To create an opportunity to have more creative aspects in the new build, council has added a provision up to $12 million to the conceptual budget.

The engagement phase is as much about the additional costs as it is about the conceptual ideas.

Moghrabi explains that council has yet to approve any additional costing or additional concepts for the project, and is simply asking the public if they would be willing to spend up to $12 million more to get additional amenities inside the new facility. Some of the multi-million dollar increases are also being anticipated due to  expected increases in material costs due to COVID-19 economic challenges.

New price

While the new facility has the potential to cost more than first announced, new technology is expected to lower the operating costs of any approved project.

“Part of the new concept plan was estimating operating costs, which will be very similar to existing Portage Pool operating costs,” notes a section of information about the project on the municipal website. “This is mainly due to improved design, energy-efficient systems, greater anticipated usage, and heat reclaiming from refrigeration systems (at) the Bold Center.”

Necessary facility

Ultimately, says Moghrabi, the 30,000-square-foot Aquatic Center will give the community much-needed additional recreation space, like the Bold Center for year-round enjoyment, especially in the cold parts of the year.

“We have beautiful winters, don’t get me wrong, but they can also be very harsh and difficult to get through unless you have good programs, good activities, and good facilities to support that — and that is the vision,” says Moghrabi.

The anticipated timeframe for construction will see the project completed in 2025, with construction plans starting after the final concept is released, says Moghrabi.

Until then, the municipal spokesperson says the community will be informed on all the decisions and plans for the centre through Lac La Biche County’s website, media updates and social media platforms.

Once the new facility is in operation, the current Portage Pool — which is leased by the municipality from Portage College — will likely be re-purposed for college use. Portage Pool was built 30 years ago, and according to municipal documents, is near the end of it life-cycle and requires numerous upgrades. 

Current plans in a $27 million concept include a 25 metre-multi-lane competition pool, a lazy river, an indoor beach, water slides and a leisure pool among several other administrative and recreation features. The $15 million initially earmarked for the Lac La Biche County facility was based on the  costs of a similar facility built in Athabasca.

Once the conceptual plans are finalized next year, councillors will determine whether or not to spend additional funds.