A location decision for the proposed aquatic recreation centre in Saugeen Shores has finally been made as Town Council voted on Monday night and named the Plex in Port Elgin as the preferred site.
In the past, there were dissenting opinions on where the aquatic recreation centre should be located but, with a deadline looming for a funding application to be submitted to the Federal and Provincial governments for at least two-thirds funding or $20 million, those who were not in favour of the Plex location had a change of mind.
Vice Deputy Mayor Mike Myatt, who headed up the Ad Hoc Aquatic Advisory Committee, said that the Committee had looked at other locations for a stand-alone facility, including the corner of Concession 10 and Hwy. 21 (Pryde property) and the Lamont Sports Park, but they would have been too costly.
“I have gone on record that the Plex is perhaps trying to shove a square peg into a round hole. The Ad Hock committee has looked at alternative sites … and tonight, I will support this location,” said Myatt. “I’m concerned that the Pryde site could take six to nine months and we can’t wait that long. Staff has assured me that 280 parking spots are available here (Plex). I don’t think we should jeopardize the funding grant and hopefully, we’ll be successful. Sometimes you have to re-assess and these decisions are not easy. We need to move this along and my motion is on the floor.”
Councilor Kristan Shrider pointed out that she had wanted more information before making a decision. “I also had to separate my heart from my head to make the decision properly. I don’t necessarily agree that the municipality should be in competition with existing businesses and I do think our existing businesses have roots in the community and offer amenities that their current and new clientele will prefer over another model. I am not sure that the YMCA is a right model for Saugeen Shores but I know we need a pool, a track and gym space. If staff and the consultants are telling us that this business plan is the way we can get this without a five hundred thousand to seven hundred thousand dollar deficit then I can’t justify risking that. I do share concerns and I hope that Council has a role to play in the discussions of the formal agreement … but I do think that this is the Council that will get this done and the project built.”
At the outset, it was felt that space, or lack of, at the Plex was of concern, particularly around parking. There have been several studies by consultants in the past to look at an aquatic recreation centre. What began as a need for a pool and walking track has morphed into a complete recreation facility operated by the YMCA, a not-for-profit organization, that would include the pool, track, fitness facility, basketball courts, change rooms, etc. similar to that of the Y in Owen Sound.
Councilor Dave Myette pointed out that the other alternative sites considered had significant additional costs and when talking about a $20 to $30 million project, every million is important. “I think this decision is the right one. Efficiencies, such as the waste heat from the ice plant, are significant. I hope we don’t have conflict with parking issues or other businesses but, if we do, I hope we can find a way to reconcile them.”
Councilor Jami Smith, who had also opposed the Plex as the preferred site, said that “What is palpable in this room right now, is that this is a very difficult decision. What I am basing my decision on is that staff is to begin to develop a formal agreement. What that means to me is that a number of concerns that were shared by delegations, can be and will be met by our staff and Council to ensure that the concerns raised by the members of the community and organizations will be considered and this will be a made-in-Saugeen Shores decision for all.”
Mayor Luke Charbonneau said that these are difficult decisions. “This is why other Councils previously could not complete this project. There are a lot of compromises but we do need to get it done. The community has needed this project and we want to be the Council to get it done and this is the clearest path to the funding we will need. We require a significant amount of external funding to make this project happen and the only way to achieve that is through funding applications that we are approving moving forward with. This has to be an application that is ‘bullet proof’ so that we get that funding and can move forward to get this done. This gives us the best possible solid application.”
Council recommended receiving the Y membership-based Business Plan and to direct staff to begin developing a formal agreement subject to Y Board approval. Staff will then prepare and submit a funding application under the Canada Infrastructure Program: Community, Culture and Recreation in the multi-purpose category.
According to Mayor Luke Charonneau acquiring the funding is crucial to the entire project. “If the funding doesn’t comes through, then we’ll have to come up with a new idea. It’s always been about the money and the bottom line. It’s always been the hold-up. We cannot borrow $20 million in a municipality of 15,000 people. I would not ever give up hope however and eventually we’ll get it done … I am confident of that.”
While the Council vote carried, Deputy Mayor Don Matheson voted against the resolution saying that there are still a lot of unanswered questions.
The town will be entering into an agreement with the YMCA