Regina council votes unanimously to try to use federal transit funding for new aquatic facility

·3 min read
The City of Regina will request that $128 million in funding earmarked for transit be used for a new aquatics facility.  (Brian Rodgers/CBC - image credit)
The City of Regina will request that $128 million in funding earmarked for transit be used for a new aquatics facility. (Brian Rodgers/CBC - image credit)

Regina city council has voted unanimously to take federal cash earmarked for transit infrastructure and use it to help cover the cost of a new aquatic facility.

There is about $128 million earmarked for the city in the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program (ICIP).

It is supposed to be used for transit infrastructure. Now, city administration will seek permission from the federal and provincial governments to use that cash on the aquatic centre.

Council spend about two hours on the subject Wednesday, hearing from concerned citizens and administration officials who had put the plan confront of councillors.

Citizen Carl Cherland admonished council for what he called an abdication of the city's transit master plan and council's commitment to combat climate change.

"Every decision you make either moves us closer to the goal of net-zero and a sustainable future, or it moves us away from the goal and closer to the climate emergency effects that are occurring as we speak," he said.

Council appeared unconvinced.

Administration officials told councillors that this proposal was an attempt to get the most value for money.

"A lot of the changes … that are in the transit master plan, a lot of those are operational dollars which you cannot use this funding for operational expenses," said Kim Onrait, executive director of citizen services for the city.

Officials also said they're either looking at other funding sources or are in the middle of applications to funds to cover things like purchasing electric buses.

Barry Lacey, executive director of financial strategy and sustainability, said that there is no agreement in place yet for the city to use the ICIP funding for an aquatic facility, but that the province has indicated there could be flexibility on the funding switch.

There is no guarantee that the provincial and federal government will agree to funding switch, but Lacey said that he believes the City of Regina can impress upon both levels of government the importance of this project.

The request sent to the provincial and federal governments includes back up proposals that focus more on the city's priorities around the environment, he said.

They include a $90-million wastewater capacity upgrade, renewable Regina facility upgrades at a cost of $14 million, and a $24-million proposal to enhance pedestrian connectivity and transit enhancements.

Debate on the topic saw multiple proposed amendments — including splitting the re-allocation of funding to cover the aquatic facility, pedestrian connectivity and transit enhancements — defeated by council.

A new aquatic centre

Hanging over council's decision was the lack of details around the aquatic centre.

Despite a new centre being identified as a top priority since the city's recreational master plan was passed in 2019, there has been little movement on the topic.

At the end of 2021, Mayor Sandra Masters told CBC News she remained committed to creating the new aquatic facility in Regina, a key plank of her campaign for mayor.

The new facility is widely viewed as a replacement for the aging Lawson Aquatic Centre in the city's downtown, and is meant to respond to the city's growing population and a need for community access to indoor year-round aquatic programming.

Officials told council that on average, municipalities across Canada have one aquatic facility per 50,000 residents.

The recreation master plan passed in 2019 found that Regina provided one aquatic facility per 71,000.

A feasibility study on the aquatic centre is still underway, although council was told it would see a report this summer.

Lacey said he had a "high degree" of certainty that any potential aquatic centre would cost more than $100 million and that the $128 million in funding would be required to fund even the "lower-end options" that will be put in front of council.

Any shortfalls in funding for the new facility would still need to be covered by the city, he said.

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