Tofino continues to pursue a new indoor recreation facility, but seems to be losing confidence that a potential grant will cover the cost.
In a Nov. 9 presentation to council, the district’s manager of community sustainability Aaron Rodgers said an upcoming grant could cover about 60 per cent of the proposed $7.2 million facility’s costs, but it might be time for the district to look beyond grant-dependent projects.
He suggested the COVID-19 pandemic shone a spotlight on Tofino’s “significant gaps” in local recreation options.
“These gaps have existed for decades and only grown larger and I think COVID has helped to highlight that,” he said. “We need to have a serious community conversation about funding options that don’t rely on grant funding.”
The district has spent roughly $140,000 in its pursuit of the recreation facility so far, including design work, a geotechnical survey, cost benefit analysis, cost estimate and environmental impact assessment.
Rodgers suggested more detailed design work is likely needed and is expected to cost another $240,000, though he said that money could potentially be redeemed through a successful grant application.
He added that a 2015 recreation management plan identified an indoor facility as a primary goal and pinpointed the community hall site as the preferred location, though he noted, “this need predates the 2015 recreation management plan by decades.”
Rodgers said the proposed 1,190 sq. metre facility would accommodate arts and culture programming and recreation for up to 600 people and added the site would include room for a future potential pool.
The project was expected to cost around $5 million in 2018, though that estimate has since increased to $7.2 million.
Rodgers suggested there’s about a 10 per cent premium in building in Tofino compared to other Vancouver Island towns, including Port Alberni, because of housing costs and availability.
“The cost to build things goes up primarily because the developers need to find a significant amount of housing for their crews for these large projects,” he said.
He added Tofino’s population is rising, particularly in the senior and youth demographics and that recreation is paramount for community health and mental well being.
“We all know there is a recreation need. We all know this is a decades-long conversation and we know this need has been defined through our 2019 project and know that it grows each year,” he said.
“The longer that we wait or we dicker or are indecisive about this, the more that we impact the overall community health.”
He added the proposed facility would also serve as an emergency centre in a disaster and would be a valuable arts and culture space.
“The large gymnasium could be easily converted into a place for performances or large community gatherings,” he said.
He noted a grant application for the facility was denied last year and the district has struggled to secure funding for the project.
“It’s been very challenging. I dont think this is unusual for any local government, but it definitely has been a concern for us. This is primarily because we are proposing a grant-dependent project,” he said. “The recreation need is great, it is growing and it can only be solved through the construction of indoor space.”
He added applications are expected to begin being accepted for a new grant opportunity in the near future and that if Tofino’s application is successful, roughly $2.9 million would be left for taxpayers to cover and a referendum would likely be needed.
He acknowledged the West Coast Multiplex Society is still pursuing its proposed facility and a group of private citizens are pitching a community pavilion space, but said a gym would still be needed if both those projects reach fruition.
“I don’t believe either of the projects meet functional program needs and goals,” he said. “I believe these are interesting projects, but don’t meet the needs of Tofino recreation in the way that the indoor recreation facility would.”
He added the district has access to the Wickaninnish Community School gym for evening use Monday-Friday, but has been unable to convince School District 70 to expand the community’s use of that space.
“We still don’t have significant access for adults. We don’t have access on weekends. We don’t have access during holiday times and these are all times that would be of high-use for the district,” he said. “Obviously staff recognizes that if (the school gym) could be a long-term solution and save us a significant amount of capital, we’d be all for it. I have not seen evidence of that. I’ve heard a lot of talk, I haven’t seen a lot of action in terms of the school. I know that staff have approached the school and SD70 with significant resource offers, but are so far being met with limited success.”
Coun. Cathy Thicke said she is “a big fan of recreation” and applauded Rodgers efforts to pursue a new gym facility for the community.
“Fitness and recreation in my view are not a luxury, they’re a necessity,” she said.
Coun. Duncan McMaster agreed and noted the district’s “success rate with the grants for recreation have been nil,” though he added he was reluctant to add to the tax bill considering the town is still trying to sort out funding options for a wastewater treatment facility.
Council agreed to direct staff to apply for the grant when the opportunity opens and to provide options for funding the facility’s capital costs without grant funding at a future meeting.
“I think we’re all in agreement that recreation is important and it’s necessary,” said Coun. Britt Chalmers. “My thoughts are we need to move on it, we need to build on it, I think a grant is an opportunity to do it.”
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