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City recommends shrinking new Lewis Farms aquatic centre to save $58M

The current inflation crunch and supply chain challenges have city administration proposing scaling back plans for the new west-end recreation centre and library.

On Thursday, administration unveiled its recommended draft capital budget that council will spend the next two months considering. One suggestion was that the Lewis Farms Recreation Centre lose a few features to stick to the original budgeted amount.

Site preparation work for the $311 million facility began this summer. To be located on the southwest side of 92 Avenue and Rosenthal Way, the new rec centre is to include indoor ice rinks, a fitness area, an aquatic centre, a gymnasium, an Edmonton Public Library branch, and a district park with sports fields.

Administration suggested axing the elite-level diving pool and shrinking another pool from 50 metres to 25. That would save the city $58 million to spend elsewhere.

Area councillor Andrew Knack is pushing to keep the original design, saying that pool space across the city is already hard enough to come by.

"No matter where you are in the city right now, I'm not exaggerating when I say, it is essentially a lottery to get into swimming programs," Knack told CTV News Edmonton.

"This isn't just a west-end problem," he added. "If there is that big of a shortage of pool space, is it worth saving that money but actually continuing on a massive (pool) shortfall."

During last year's budget deliberations, council dealt with nearly the exact scenario with the Coronation Recreation Centre and Velodrome

That project needed an extra $41.1 million on top of the approved $112 million to ensure it had a running track and spectator seating to keep it at a level acceptable to host international events.

At the time, administration noted that changing the project scope would be a lost economic opportunity.

"Council had to ultimately increase the budget," Knack explained. "That was our most recent example of something where we said it's worth spending the money upfront because this will help ensure the best long-term success for recreation needs across the city."

The Lewis Estates facility was originally conceived as providing Edmonton a second competitive aquatic training venue, complete with a deep tank to support synchronized swimming, water polo, diving, swimming lanes and spectator seating.

While the cost per square foot for constructing the new facility is in line with other recent recreation centres before inflation surged, since it is going to be on a new land parcel, installing utilities is further increasing the price point.

A concept image of the aquatic centre at the new Lewis Farms Recreation Centre (Source: City of Edmonton).

Knack recognizes this is a tough budget cycle, but he wants the city to keep the original design specs for the Lewis Estates aquatic centre so it can serve as a backup for Kinsmen Sports Centre.

"We owe it to not just the local west-end community who has been waiting for this specific piece, but I actually think we owe it to Edmontonians as a whole to talk about access to swimming programs and lessons and access to pool space," he said.

"Not everyone would agree on what's a core service a municipality has to provide. But I think recreation is one that we all would say, well, of course."

The city councillor representing Ward Nakota Isga worries further project changes could negatively impact the city further.

"If we are going to shrink this, does that mean we have to spend six months to a year redesigning it," Knack said. "Does that push the project back further? And what happens in that six months to 12 months? Does the cost keep going up again?"

"(We have to make) the right decision not just for this year's budget deliberations," he added. "But what's the right decision for the next 100 years to ensure that city-wide, we have good access to recreation opportunities." 

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Jeremy Thompson Top Stories

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