Even though ground officially broke on the project in August, Chestermere’s new City council has voted to terminate a $40 million civic centre project that had long been in the works in the lakeside community.
During a special council meeting held Nov. 1, council directed administration to terminate the civic centre field house project, and to begin a feasibility review for a new field house, to be built on a site yet to be determined.
“I want to focus on a clear priority for the school site,” said Mayor Jeff Colvin. “It’s important that these things are championed by council for the kids. I want to make sure we give ourselves an opportunity to fight for this.”
Colvin said it was important to mention there are no building contracts in place for the civic centre.
“We are looking to complete some of our design,” he said. “It’s just under 60 per cent [complete]. But the big thing we were worried about was the liability on the construction contract. To my knowledge, I don’t know if it has even been created yet.”
Before a decision was made, Coun. Ritesh Narayan asked for administration to prepare a presentation for council before moving ahead with a decision to terminate the project.
“The intention is good, but we’re discussing lands that belong to the developer,” Narayan said. “This council hasn’t been presented with the entire project, about different engagement pieces, all the work, and how this is costing what it’s costing.”
The previously selected site, according to a City of Chestermere press release, was in the new subdivision of Dawson’s Landing, and was set to be adjacent to a future high school site, as well as a second public school.
Phase 1, according to the press release, was set to see the completion of a multi-phase complex that would have included an indoor field house – a priority need identified by past public engagement. It was scheduled to have been completed in 2023.
The release stated the project had been in the works since 2014, when the City of Chestermere started actively researching and developing data to address the needs and feasibility for a new recreation facility.
“Initiatives during this period included the initial community consultation, a formal needs assessment, partnership exploration, site and concept feasibility work, development discussions, interviews with recreation experts, and other community site visits,” the release stated.
According to Kathy Russell, director of community operations, City administration previously consulted with legal counsel and notified two active contracts about putting the entire project on hold.
“We felt that any exit strategy for the project needed to be vetted,” Russell said during the meeting. “There are a number of players and commitments [involved], and there’s a domino effect.”
Coun. Stephen Hanley wanted to remind the public before council officially voted that with no contracts in place, there are no liabilities people should be worried about.
“The only thing that has been done with [is] the design side, which can be used for future considerations,” he said.
Hanley also said he feels the total price tag of $40 million for the project was questionable.
“[The project] is a valid consideration, but not for $40 million,” he said. “The project should be stopped, and we should be considering how we are going to satisfy those needs.”
Acting Chief Administrative Officer Harry Harker said it would be beneficial to have a workshop with the new council on the civic centre item, which would also bring him up to speed, as he just recently replaced Bernie Morton in the role of CAO.
“I’d like to pull together the information that I’ve heard council talking about, I’d like to bring that back and have that in front of council,” he said. “[I also want to] see the numbers and see what it means to cancel any of these design contracts that we have going on, so we are making a decision based on reality.”
The item passed by a vote of 4-3, with Couns. Sandy Johall-Watt, Shannon Dean, and Narayan voting in opposition.
The cancellation of the civic centre project marks yet another reversal of decisions made by Chestermere’s previous City council. Another decision was to bring back a speed limit of 80 kilometres-an-hour on Chestermere Boulevard, after the last council voted to reduce it to 60 kilometres-an-hour, while another decision was the release of Morton as the City’s CAO.