photo: Darrol Hofmeister
Regina’s new rec direction spells doom for little facility
by Paul Dechene
No one wants to close a community facility, was an oft-repeated sentiment at City Council’s Nov. 8 meeting.
But when it came time to decide the fate of the Pasqua Neighbourhood Centre, only Councillor Sharron Bryce voted against its closure.
It’s not surprising she’d be the lone holdout, as the 60-year-old building resides in her ward — in a neighbourhood with a lot of affordable rental housing and lower-income families who may have limited ability to get to other parts of the city for community programming.
“I’m never happy when a facility such as a rec centre will close in an area,” says Councillor Bryce. “You need those facilities for a good, cohesive community.
“I just feel that that money’s being taken out of my community and put into other communities. And I’m not happy with that.”
Why close the Pasqua Center? The reason cited was the high cost of renovating the building. It was originally built as a school in 1952 and repurposed as a community facility 30 years ago. Doing the work needed to keep the building functioning will cost about $1,915,000.
It’s not an unreasonable point.
As well, new homes have been found for the 22 groups that currently use the building — including the Coronation Park Community Association, the Bible Way Baptist Church, the Prairie Rock and Gem Society and the North Zone Board Playschool.
The building will be officially decommissioned June 30, 2011. Sometime before that, the neighbourhood will be invited to workshops — “visioning sessions” in fancy, modern lingo — to work out how nearby Regent Park can be redeveloped into a community hub.
But Bryce was perplexed that this process hadn’t already happened.
“If they would have done the community visioning beforehand, see what the community wanted, this could have been a really good announcement,” she says. “Instead, it’s now being done afterwards and, as I say, some of those programs won’t come back no matter what.”
Mayor Pat Fiacco saw the potential opportunities in the Regent Park rebuild as a reason to believe the decommissioning will be a net positive in the long run. Speaking before council, Fiacco pointed to the possibility of new features such as a spray pad, skateboard park or new basketball court as a “bit of a win” for the community.
Of course, whether or not the community wants or needs or will get any of these is yet to be determined, and any future park upgrades will have to be considered in light of the Community Services department’s financial constraints.
And one option that seems to be off the table is building a new community centre in that neighbourhood.
According to Community Services director Chris Holden, the last community centres — South Leisure Centre and the Core Ritchie Centre — were built in 1985 thanks to community revitalization funding.
Nowadays, he says, the new Recreation Facility Plan is moving away from the little neighbourhood centre model.
“Would there be another facility like that built in that neighbourhood?” Holden asks rhetorically. “One of the concepts we have in the Recreation Facility Plan is we really want to try and build neighbourhood hub type facilities — what we’ve called the community destination facilities.”
For neighbourhood-level needs, however, he says the intent of the Rec Plan is to creatively use already existing facilities.
“We have to do a better job of [using] our schools,” he says. “Most schools are open at nine in the morning and they finish at four o’clock, and yes, there’s some extracurricular activities that happen after. But they have multi-million-dollar buildings that sit empty. So we need to as a community say, ‘How do we leverage those and how do we take advantage of these facilities?’”
Of course, those schools are not under the control of the Community Services department. And school boards have long-term plans of their own that may not always mesh with the hopes and dreams of city hall. Regina Public Schools has a 10-year revitalization plan, for instance, which infamously provides for the closure of many smaller schools.
Holden says that his department is aware of this and they are working with the school boards on it.
“The role of the city is to make sure there are sport, culture and rec opportunities in a community; [that] doesn’t necessarily mean that they have to be provided by the city,” he says. “What we need to do is make sure there’s a mix there. If there’s a private organization or a school organization, and we can provide a mix of programs and services by partnering with others or collaborating with others, at the end of the day, that’s what is important.”
Ultimately, it sounds like building new centres, or rebuilding old ones once they reach the end of their life cycle, will be a rare thing in the future. But there will be exceptions.
“Well, the Plan talks about building one in the Heritage Centre,” says Holden. “So where we have a community that really has a demonstrated need and the demographics and everything, then, well, it makes sense that we invest in that community.”
But at the same time, the costs of construction and of day-to-day maintenance have become too much for the city’s recreation system to handle.
Looks like the days of having a neighbourhood facility in every community are pretty much over.