Recreational facilities are maxed out

Derek Montague
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When residents of Happy Valley-Goose Bay gathered at the Town Hall earlier this month, to discuss potential impacts Muskrat Falls would have on the community, a lot of concerns were brought to the table.

One of the concerns that stood out was the need for better recreational facilities.

The issue is not new. For several years, residents and town councillors have discussed the need for brand new facilities to meet the town's increasing recreational needs. But, with a population boom expected to happen from the Muskrat Falls development, the need seems more imminent than ever.

"We're not talking about one piece of infrastructure here, we're talking about the majority of recreation infrastructure in our community," says Parks and Recreation Councillor Arlene Michelin. "It's not how much the town is willing to spend, it's how is the town going to leverage that money. That's the misunderstanding that maybe exists out there. It's not the town isn't eager or willing to move forward, because we are."

Most people seem to agree that a brand new recreation complex, with a swimming pool, is the top priority on the list. The Labrador provincial training center is more than 50 years old, and the three-lane swimming pool isn't enough to meet the demands of swimmers. Kerry Rideout, head coach of the Melville Manta's swimming club, says they have to turn kids away every year. And once a kid turns 11, Rideout can only keep them in the club if they're willing to swim competitively.

"It's tough, very tough, especially when you know there's other places in the province...that have 70 kids and they also have programs where they don't have to race (competitively) if they don't want to," says Rideout. "It's hard to see them leave because a lot of those kids are there for the recreation and for the fun...(it's tough) when you have to say if you're not going competitive I can't keep you."

To make matters worse, residents never know when the training centre might be closed down to repairs. Rideout recalls a time last year when repairs were being done during the Melville Mantas' busy swim season.

"Up at the training centre they're constantly repairing the roof. It was closed for eight weeks last year, in the middle of my (swim) season," says Rideout.

Hockey is a popular sport in Happy-Valley Goose Bay, way too popular for one arena to meet the demands. The E.J. Broomfield Memorial arena is booked solid every day and every night with minor hockey, recreation hockey and figure skating, among other activities. It is near impossible for a new group to find ice time at the arena.

This past October, Don Weber tried icing a competitive senior men's hockey team. If he had been successful, Goose Bay would be playing full body contact games against rivals from Labrador City and Fermont. But Weber could not get ice time for his team to practice. Many of the players didn't want to enter a competitive game out of game shape, so the team was cancelled.

"There's just not enough ice for all the organizations that we have," says Webber. "The only way to get ice time is if someone cancels their hour. And that's what we were doing, if someone cancelled for an hour, we took it."

The Town is investing approximately $700,000 into the E.J. Broomfield arena, for some renovations and to remove some mold. With all the renovations that have taken place over the years, E.J. Broomfield may not need to be replaced, but a new ice surface is needed to meet the demands for ice time.

It might not even be necessary to build a brand new rink. The town has another arena directly across from the Labrador Training Centre. But it was closed several years ago when there was much less demand for ice time. The town says it would have to reassess whether it would be feasible to reopen that facility.

"The building has been shut down since the mid-90's, so there'd have to be an assessment. Council's been thinking about that but, once again, it comes down to dollars and cents, what we can afford and what we can actually do," says Deputy Mayor Stanley Oliver.

There is much debate around town about who should pay for new infrastructure, especially a new recreational complex to replace the aging Training Centre. Some believe the province should pay, since Muskrat Falls will have a large impact on the town. Since the province owns and operates the Training Centre; some argue that they should be responsible for replacing it.

"It should be the responsibility of the provincial government to create and develop...in terms of replacing that particular infrastructure," says Arlene Michelin

Typically, when the provincial government and a municipality co-fund such a project, the cost is split 70-30 (the province absorbing 70 percent of the cost with the municipality responsible for the other 30 percent). However, Town councillors say there's no way the town can afford to pay for 30 percent of a new sports facility at this time. The Town has recently invested several million dollars invested in a sewage treatment facility.

"That 30 percent has to be leverage some way. The only way a municipality can leverage money is through taxes," says Michelin. "Everyone around the table believes that our taxpayers are maxed (out)."

The provincial government has been backing away from owning and operating recreational facilities. Therefore, the prospect of the province paying for the operation and upkeep of a modern sports facility is slim.

"The direction of the government is to be moving away from being the operators of these facilities," says Lake Melville MHA Keith Russell. "We're willing to move forward with the town, but the town has to be responsible for the operating costs.

"We've recognized that the town of Happy Valley has outgrown the Training Centre. We're certainly willing to work with them and discuss a path forward."

The town council isn't confident it can afford to cover operational costs either, especially since they already have to pay for the operation and upkeep of the hockey arena.

"The operational cost to oversee a recreation facility is huge. You look at the E.J. Broomfield Memorial Arena, we run a deficit every year," says Michelin.

Kerry Rideout suggests that if a new recreational complex is built, the YMCA should be asked to operate it. Stanley Oliver says the town has had brief discussions with the YMCA about such a possibility.

"My understanding is that they'd like to come back to town and talk to us and we're all up for that," says Oliver.

Last week, Happy Valley-Goose Bay officials, including Mayor Leo Abbass, were in St. John's to talk to members of the provincial government about some of the town's issues. Recreational facilities was one of the items on the agenda.

MHA Keith Russell says he plans to meet with the Town Council in February to discuss some topics, with recreation a main priority. Right now the gap between the province and the town is wide on this issue, and both sides are hoping that having these talks will bridge the gap.

"It always comes down to dollars and we have some fundamental differences," says Oliver. "That's where we're to now; our ability to pay and their ability to want to pay."

 

Organizations: Town Hall, Labrador Training Centre, YMCA Town Council

Geographic location: Happy Valley, Goose Bay, Labrador Lake Melville MHA Keith Russell St. John's

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