The cost of building an upcoming multi-use recreation facility in Tofino has climbed by millions of dollars — from around $10 million last year to $14.7 million — due to rising design, construction and transportation costs, prompting concern from some residents about possible tax increases and competition for dollars from a planned multiplex.
Tofino Mayor Dan Law said council learned about the increased costs from the district's director of infrastructure and public works at a special council meeting before the holidays.
Law said it's now a "daunting challenge" for the rec facility, which has been planned since 2015 and would include a gymnasium, basketball, pickleball courts, and other spaces, as well as serving as an emergency centre and shelter.
"To see that cost escalated [gave] me pause," said Law, noting the district will be "getting creative" in raising extra funds, citing fees, grants, levies and private donors to secure resources as quickly as possible.
For years, residents and public officials have been calling for more indoor rec spaces for west coast Vancouver Island communities, a service gap Law argues is "very unusual throughout the province for a town of our size."
Another planned facility in Tofino, the West Coast Multiplex, supported by the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District (ACRD), has also been in the works for more than 20 years.
"We're actively looking for ways to find alternative revenue," said Law, adding the district would soon apply for a federal Green and Inclusive Community Buildings grant, established for the construction of public buildings in under-served communities with high needs, that could cover over half of the costs. Funds from recently implemented parking fees would also support the centre.
Law said it's possible the district could raise property taxes for the community of around 2,000 taxpayers, calling it a "social investment" that would support the region's overall well-being.
So far, the district has spent around $260,000 on the project, said Law.
Concerns over costs
Brooke Wood, a long-time Tofino resident and mother of two boys, has long advocated for an indoor activity space, especially for young families.
"We need something. People are leaving town. They can't stay in the community because there's nothing to do," said Wood, citing three friends whose families are moving away this year for better sports opportunities.
Wood said she's concerned about a "double tax increase" if the district raises taxes on Tofino residents to support the centre, given the ACRD has already approved a tax increase to support the Westcoast Multiplex's operating costs after it is built, following a referendum in 2012.
She is calling for "more collaboration" between the two projects in terms of how much residents are taxed and where to apply for grants.
Priorities for rec centre projects discussed
Samantha Hackett, the chair of the West Coast Multiplex Society, says the two rec centre projects fill different community needs. The multiplex would be built near the Long Beach Golf Course and would include an ice rink and a swimming pool and would serve the residents of eight Island west coast communities, including First Nations.
She said building costs for the multiplex have also increased though she didn't know by how much, and the society would be working to secure more funds using a "network of opportunities" throughout the ACRD that it's developed over the last two decades.
She said it could be hard for the two projects to secure funding if they both apply for the same grants, noting the society plans to apply for a grant from Infrastructure Canada this year.
Hackett argued that the costs for the multiplex would be spread out among multiple communities— not just Tofino — and would be more cost-effective for residents in the long run.
She and Law told CBC that parties and regional governments involved in building the two centres will be meeting this year to discuss recreation priorities.