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Funding for Strathcona Gardens reno denied

‘If we don’t get funding… our pool will be closing’ — chair
Funding for the Strathcona Gardens Re-Create project was denied by the provincial government, which puts the future of the facility into question. Black Press File Photo.

The hoped-for provincial grant funding for the ReCreate project at Strathcona Gardens will not be coming.

Originally built in the 1970s, the Strathcona Gardens facility has been on deck for revitalization since the mid-2010s. After a process of studies, design work and funding applications, the lack of grant funding is leaving the future of the facility in limbo.

The regional district applied to the Canada Infrastructure Grant, which would provide joint funding from both the provincial and federal governments.

“We heard back in March that it was over prescribed and that unfortunately the application we put forward was not approved,” said Strathcona Gardens senior manager Koreen Gurak. “We don’t know what projects got endorsed by the province. It wasn’t ReCreate. We’re still looking to figure out whether or not we can do anything at this point.”

The Strathcona Regional District received a letter from the province saying that because of the volume of other applicants, the funding for this round had been exhausted. During the May 13 Strathcona Gardens Commission meeting, commissioners discussed the issue, noting that several government representatives had acknowledged the fact that the project was shovel-ready and were confused as to why the funding had not been approved.

“We would like to know what projects were supported in that round of funding, because we’re not aware of what was funded through that. There is some kind of notation of things that were either outdoor spaces or trails or bike lanes and those kinds of things that were not necessarily hard-infrastructure building money,” Gurak said.

“Many many facilities across the country are ageing recreation facilities built in the 70s,” she added. “We’re not unique, but to upgrade these facilities come at a larger dollar amount. It’s more than the funding probably allowed for.”

Commission chair Andy Adams noted during the meeting that other areas such as Port Hardy and Tofino were denied in their applications as well. Commissioner Brenda Leigh stated that since the provincial and federal governments were going to be feeling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic for some time to come, it may be a good time to reconsider the project and find a new way forward.

“I bet a lot of communities will be lucky to have a recreation facility not shut down because of COVID-19,” she said. “It’s going to be so devastating to the economy, and I think we should re-jig the whole project and look at what we need to do and what we can do with our own funds. Otherwise we’re a dog chasing a tail and we’ll never get there.”

Adams said during the meeting that if the funding did not come, the future of the facility may be at stake. The $78 million price tag of the project is likely to increase, Adams explained, and that a lack of funds would force the local government to “prioritize where money is spent to offset the impact of the pandemic on its revenues, operations and functions.”

“The fact remains, if we don’t get funding and we don’t re-jig, our pool will be closing because we can’t keep it going under these conditions,” he added.

Gurak said that in the past, plans to revitalize the pool had been slowed because any renovations would require the building to be brought up to modern standards. This includes replacing the pool roof for seismic safety reasons. Since any undertaking would have been large, the regional district planned to revitalize the entire facility, including moving the pool space closer to Dogwood Street and updating the Rod Brind’Amour arena to include bucket seating, a track and the capacity for more events. The regional district has done considerable work towards completing the project, including a completed schematic design and had been setting aside funds to cover their share of the costs.

The regional district will be looking for other funding sources, including a potential stimulus package to help local economies bounce back after COVID-19.

“They’re looking at things that would, as you can see with the opening, are outdoor spaces. They’re places that help to support those kinds of things. That’s on their minds too,” Gurak said. “As you can see right now, we’re closed whereas things that are getting geared up are more outdoor spaces and things that promote recreation outdoors.”

However, outdoor activities would leave vulnerable groups without a place to go. Gurak said that Strathcona Gardens has contracts with Island Health to support people with chronic diseases.

In a letter to federal Minister of Infrastructure and Communities Catherine McKenna dated May 1, Adams wrote: “We would ask not for reconsideration of the decision, but rather to be considered a back-up in the event that regions that were approved are not able to fulfill the requirements of the Grant, or, for our application to be considered for the Federal Stimulus Plan that you announced on Jan. 31, 2020 seeking ‘shovel ready’ projects for the Federal post-shutdown stimulus plan.” The district also asked to see a list of approved projects.

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