Regina council approves plan to build new aquatic centre, geothermal heating facility

Regina city council has voted to move forward with a plan to construct a new aquatic centre in the city.  (Alexander Quon/CBC News - image credit)
Regina city council has voted to move forward with a plan to construct a new aquatic centre in the city. (Alexander Quon/CBC News - image credit)

Regina city council has unanimously voted to move forward with the construction of a new aquatic centre and a geothermal facility that will be used to heat it.

The decision is the first approval of one of the mega projects recommended for construction in downtown Regina by the city's catalyst committee.

The new aquatic centre would replace the aging Lawson facility, while featuring more pools, additional lanes and extra amenities.

Council has been told the existing facility only has an expected remaining lifespan of five to seven years.

City to request permission for federal funding

One of the decisions council made on Wednesday was to submit an application to use $128 million allocated to the City of Regina in the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program (ICIP) to help fund the two projects.

ICIP was originally meant to fund transit infrastructure but Mayor Sandra Masters confirmed on Wednesday that it is now available to fund green infrastructure.

While questions remain about whether the federal government will permit the funding to be used in this way, the mayor said she believes the inclusion of the geothermal heating facility will make a difference in their application.

"The federal government still has the ability to approve, but we know the inclusion of geothermal is incredibly attractive because they are very supportive of alternate sources of heating and energy," she said.

If that happens, $108 million of the ICIP funding would go toward the $160.7-million aquatic centre, while the remaining $20 million would go toward the cost of the $28.5-million geothermal heating facility at the Lawson site.

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The city voted to approve the recommendations of the catalyst committee, which found that the new aquatic centre should be built at the site of the existing Lawson facility.

However, the city did leave the door open to potentially using the location of the former rail yards north of Casino Regina near Dewdney Avenue, known as The Yards, if "environmental conditions or reclamation of the Lawson site prove compromised."

While there are details that still need to be worked out, the initial feasibility study indicates that the new aquatic centre would create 100 full time jobs.

City administration said that is between three and four times as many as are employed at the existing Lawson facility.

Geothermal facility approved

A large portion of Wednesday's council debate was over the use and application of the geothermal facility.

The Petroleum Technology Research Centre was contracted to conduct a feasibility study on the geothermal heating facility.

"It has a limited capacity. Based on the work we've done it will be sized to provide most of the energy, most of the time,"  Brian Brunskill, one of the geologists who prepared the report, told council.

It may have a hard time keeping up on very cold days, but a built in boiler system would help to supplement the geothermal system should it fail or need support, Brunskill added.

City administration said that the use of the geothermal system will help to get the facility to net-zero carbon emissions.

The "significant barrier to project development" is current provincial legislation around resource extraction, according to the geothermal feasibility report.

Provincial legislation requires consent from all mineral holders with the 40-acre area where the subsurface well would located.

City administration said the current provincial legislation that deals with resource extraction was meant for oil and gas, not the extraction of heat. They said that some of their initial conversations with the provincial government showed "broad support" to make changes to the legislation to ease the path for the geothermal project.

The feasibility study for the geothermal facility was focused on providing power to the aquatic centre and it would not be able to provide energy to commercial development in the area, such as the still unused site of the former Taylor Field, the city said.

ICIP funding and debt

ICIP funding is cost shared, with 40 per cent of the total coming from the federal government, 33.3 per cent from the provincial government and the remaining 26.7 per cent from the city government.

A report presented to council said the city would help fund its portion of the ICIP funding through debt, capital contributions and development charges.

Funding for this project and three other mega projects recommended by the catalyst committee will likely require the city to increase its debt limit, with a report on that set to come to council later this year.

On Wednesday, Mayor Sandra Masters said the $61.2 million in construction costs not covered by ICIP funding would be be made up through recreational levy that has been building up over the past few years.

What comes next

City administration said the design stage for the aquatic centre and the geothermal facility will begin next. That is expected to take 18 months.

An amendment passed by executive committee last week means that the public will have time to provide feedback before that design is completed.

Construction on the facility would begin by late 2024 or early 2025, with the pool scheduled to open in 2028.

If approved the ICIP funding would be contingent on the decommissioning of the Lawson pool within five years of the new facility opening.

City administration said their hope would be to have the opening of the new facility and decommissioning of the Lawson pool occur at roughly the same time.