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Town of St. Paul takes steps to move forward with outdoor recreation facility on former OTJ site

The Town of St. Paul and St. Paul Education have agreed to enter a land lease agreement for a portion of the school year at Racette Jr. High School. The location was once known as the OTJ and plans to turn it back into an outdoor recreation facility continue to move forward.

ST. PAUL - The next steps to create a multi-season outdoor recreation facility on St. Paul's main street - and on the same site where a similar recreation facility once existed - have been taken.

The Town of St. Paul and St. Paul Education have agreed to enter a land lease agreement for a portion of land located along St. Paul's main street, near Racette Jr. High School - an area that once included an outdoor skating rink and recreation area known as the OTJ. 

Historical photos from the mid-1900s show residents skating on the outdoor rink. The brick building that once was used as a change room-type facility, still stands.

With results from resident surveys prioritizing an outdoor recreation facility, discussions were spurred within the Town of St. Paul and its Parks and Recreation Advisory Board.

“We’ve done some community surveys and (outdoor recreation) seems to be one that’s always at the forefront," said CAO Steven Jeffery, when speaking with Lakeland Today about the potential project. When discussions were happening, a few different options for a location were suggested, but a firm decision had yet to be made and the recreation board was split on where to put the facility at the time. 

“When we refocused our efforts... we started with having the conversation with the school board first," explained Jeffery. This time, everyone seemed to agree, including the school division. 

“We’ve gone a little bit back in time, and thought that probably is a really great idea," says Jeffery, speaking to the idea of recreating what was once in place at the OTJ.

The footprint of the outdoor recreation facility will be about 1.2 acres in size, and will encompass the southeast corner of the Racette Jr. High School yard. The small playground area that is in place will have to be moved, since it will sit on top of that area. 

A Canadian Facility Enhancement Program (CFEP) grant has been applied for, which could cover 50 per cent of the total costs of the project. The total price tag of the outdoor facility is estimated at $850,000, which does include enhancements being done to the brick building so it can once again be used by the public. 

"It’s quite historical," says Jeffery, speaking about the building, and affirming that the Town wants to keep the building as part of its plans and give the area the same "feel" that it once had. 

RELATED STORY - Preliminary talks to revitalize OTJ area could begin soon

The facility would be usable year-round, with skating in the winter, and basketball and the summer, along with the possibility of volleyball, and maybe even pickleball.

“There’s going to be a lot of other sports that get added to this surface," says Jeffery.

The CAO says he and the Parks and Recreation Director, Harvey Smyl, have both spent quite a bit of time researching how these recreation facilities operate in other communities. In some areas they work well, and in other areas it's more of a challenge. If the Town is successful in securing funding for the project, the municipality would maintain ownership and responsibility over the facility, meaning Town of St. Paul employees would be dedicated to maintaining it.

"It would be a Town facility.”

If the CFEP grant is successful, it mean the Town would also be responsible for securing the remaining $425,000, which Jeffery says could be funded through various different avenues. 

Following in camera discussions at the June 13 Town of St. Paul council meeting, a motion was made to enter a land lease agreement with St. Paul Education. That motion was carried.

A motion to authorize administration to incorporate the Multi Season Outdoor Recreational Facility into the Town of St. Paul’s 2023 Operating Budget, allocating $20,000, was also carried, along with a motion to absorb or cover the Capital Budget shortfall towards the Multi Season Outdoor Recreational Facility.

If all goes as planned, and the Town is successful in accessing a CFEP grant this fall - and other funding is secured - Jeffery is hopeful construction of the facility will begin in 2023, and the area could be available for use the winter of 2023/24.

The CAO believes the multi-season facility is an exciting project for the community, especially after a time of so much uncertainty and limitations. 

“We’re just happy to be able to tell the ratepayers ‘We heard you loud and clear,’ and we think we can do this.” 

Speaking about discussions that were had with the school division, Jeffery says those discussions went very smooth and there was a willingness from both parties to recreate what once existed. When discussions began, the school division was also in limbo about how to proceed with the brick building on the site. 

The school has a need for outdoor programming and the community does too, said Jeffery, who thanked the school division for being open to the idea of recreating a recreation space on the land. 

"We have agreed to a long term lease to the town of 30 years of the OTJ building and surrounding grounds to construct a year round outdoor multipurpose surface that will also be usable as an ice rink in the winter months," confirmed St. Paul Education board chair Heather Starosielski, with Lakeland Today.

"The school division is excited to be a part of this partnership and the opportunities it will also provide to our students who will have access during school hours to support our athletics curriculum," adds Starosielski.

The school board also discussed the matter in camera at a recent meeting, then passed a motion to "to approve entering into a lease and subdivision agreement at Ecole Racette School with the Town of St. Paul for a recreation facility with a 30 year term and an option for an additional 10 years," according to secretary-treasurer Jean Champagne.

Janice Huser

About the Author: Janice Huser

Janice Huser has been with the St. Paul Journal since 2006. She is a graduate of the SAIT print media journalism program, is originally from St. Paul and has a passion for photography.
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