Tofino is moving forward with a grant application to build a gym facility, though the estimated cost of the project has doubled from $5 million to $10 million.
The town has long been planning to build a gym adjacent to the community hall on Arnet Road and that pursuit heated up with the launch of a new Community, Culture, and Recreation funding program announced by the federal government last year.
READ MORE: Gymnasium still a need in Tofino
Tofino’s municipal council agreed to spend roughly $116,000 last year on design and cost estimates in order to submit an application to build a gym facility through that program.
Prior to those cost estimates being completed, the district believed a gym would cost roughly $5 million, but the work led to a cost estimate of $10 million. The federal grant, if approved, would cover roughly $7 million of that, meaning the district would need to borrow an additional $3 million to complete the project.
READ MORE: Tofino pursues $5 million gym
That potential loan would cost roughly $183,086 a year over a 25 year period to pay off.
In a report to council, Tofino’s director of finance Nyla Attiana wrote that she could not recommend moving forward with the gym.
She noted the district is also planning to take out a roughly $16 million loan for a wastewater treatment facility.
“The budget for the Indoor Recreation Facility has increased significantly. Borrowing for this project at any amount will increase the burden on the taxpayers beyond what will already be in place as a result of borrowing for the Wastewater Treatment Plant project,” Attiana wrote.
Tofino’s manager of community sustainability Aaron Rodgers, however, argued that a gym is a vital need in Tofino and suggested the facility would cost closer to $7 million than $10 million.
“As you were, I was very shocked at the overall cost of this project at $10 million,” he said. “At $10 million, we’re looking at about an $8,000 per square-metre building…I will stand here and guarantee you, I will stake my job on it, that we are not building at $8,000 per square-metre. I will. You guys are going to be the council here and you can ask for my resignation in two years; we are not building an $8,000 per square foot building. We are not. We are going to build a $4,500 to $5,000 [per] square foot building.”
He suggested similar facilities on Vancouver Island are being built for $3,500 and $4,500 per square meter. He added that going ahead with the grant application would not lock the district into the project as, if the grant is approved, residents would need to give permission to the district to borrow the money through a referendum.
The gym is designed to allow for future expansion, with room for a potential swimming pool left adjacent to it.
Rodgers said the facility would be built to accommodate 500 people, but could handle up to 700 for special events and would be a valuable venue for recreation and gatherings as well as a much needed evacuation centre in case of emergency.
“I want to be really clear that while this is a Tofino project…it is a regional asset. The community that’s going to use it is not just going to be us, it’s going to be everybody,” he said.
He added local children need an opportunity to recreate in a safe, warm, space during the evenings, weekends, holidays and summer months.
“That doesn’t exist now. Our agreement with the school is tenuous at best. It’s a year to year agreement,” he said. “We need to look to our youth and their opportunities and also to our seasonal populations and our residents who live in RV’s or trailers that have nowhere to go other than a bar or restaurant in the evenings in wintertime. The need is there.”
READ MORE: Tofino weighs local gym interest
He suggested it is time for Tofino to invest in its residents.
“It’s a vital conversation for our community. Over the last 20 years, we’ve built infrastructure designed to accommodate a population two to three times our Tofino population and we’ve done that for a very good reason. We’ve done it to support our tourist industry which, in turn, supports us all. It’s a very valuable industry for us,” he said.
“We haven’t done a lot specifically for the people of Tofino and the region and I think this project provides us that opportunity. From my perspective, recreation and this facility is at least as important to us and for the health of our community as potable water and wastewater treatment.”
Council unanimously supported moving ahead with the grant application.
“A want in this community is a swimming pool, a better library, an ice rink and arts and culture centre. Needs are safe and affordable housing, adequate water, liquid waste management and we need a place for this community to gather, socialize and exercise and play sports together,” said Coun. Duncan McMaster.