By Greg Price
RC Strategies was on hand at the November Taber Recreation Board meeting to give an update on how the draft version of the Recreation Master Plan is coming along.
RC Strategies had previously met with the recreation board in late August, when the organization shared research findings from surveys that were put out to the public.
RC Strategies had 252 households respond to the household survey (representing 705 individuals), 42 community organizations and stakeholder groups participated in the in-person discussion sessions, and 28 groups submitted a response to the community group survey.
“The mission statement was actually developed last year during a strategic planning session from the recreation department. The key elements of it is to provide safe and clean facilities and spaces. As well as to provide opportunities for your residents to engage in active recreation as well as community building,” said Ryan Schwartz of RC Strategies. “The whole idea of why we are doing this is to enhance the quality of life for residents here.”
RC Strategies added there has to be benchmarks of intended outcomes to show that the Recreation Master Plan is being successful.
“You want to have an enhanced sense of community, we want to have high participation levels. We want everyone out and active, not just the people who are already active,” said Schwartz. “We want everyone to feel welcome. It is something that came out during our stakeholder discussion. There are certain aspects of the population and demographic that may be a little segregated. We want to make sure everyone feels welcome to be involved in recreation.”
The value system of the Recreation Master Plan is to have inclusion, informed decisions, leadership, collaboration, safety and creativity.
“We have heard through community recreation groups that if there is some sort of initiative that a group wants to get built, or a program started, so do they go to the rec board, do they go to the town, do they go to council?” said Schwartz. “We want to make sure there are some strong leadership skills so everyone is on the same page. Collaboration keeps the door open working with groups as well as some of our regional partners and schools.”
Guiding principles for recreation infrastructure were discussed, including ensuring the safety and ongoing maintenance of infrastructure. Also, to sustain or decommission existing infrastructure before considering new development.
“In this plan, we are not suggesting to decommission any spaces. But the thought here is, before we go build a shiny new facility, we have to make sure we have enough money and enough focus in our existing ones so we don’t have to stretch ourselves too far,” said Schwartz, adding spaces have to be prioritized that are multi-functional and serve a wide range of interests. “If we just build something that already exists, that just helps those people get active and it doesn’t really help us achieve the goal of high participation levels and making everyone feel welcome. If you build something, but you have to be fairly well off financially to use the facility, that’s not as good of use of a public facility.”
The small ice arena has been a point of contention, being far past its life span. Community ice-user groups have made it be known in the majority that fixing up the small arena is of bigger priority that having a new second large ice surface.
“This is one we wrestled with quite a bit. This isn’t the final direction, but one we feel strongly about is to sustain the small ice arena and to invest in the safety and modernization of that space,” said Schwartz. “Hockey Canada is mandating half-ice games for the younger age groups. The other main reason is financial if you do build another full-sized sheet, that will be expensive and it will delay any other infrastructure projects the town may want to do.”
Ice areas finished at only 22 per cent, when the top-10 desired indoor spaces were revealed from the various surveys and stakeholder discussions. The top 10 included indoor sports fields (37 per cent), climbing walls (37 per cent), jogging/walking tracks (36 per cent), indoor chid play spaces (27 per cent), gymnasiums (23 per cent), ice arenas (22 per cent), multi-purpose sport surfaces (20 per cent), fitness/wellness facilities (20 per cent), leisure swimming pools (20 per cent), and performing arts theatres (17 per cent).
“In 2015, there was a community group that got together and did a feasibility study for an indoor fieldhouse type of facility. The need for it has been confirmed through our surveys as a very desired space with the indoor sports fields, climbing walls, indoor walking tracks and indoor child play spaces,” said Schwartz. “It’s putting a lot of eggs in the same basket and what we are suggesting is that this should be the next major infrastructure development that the town should embark on.”
RC Strategies got an architect to do a facility assessment on the Taber Community Centre and on the Taber Aquafun Centre, identifying short and long-term maintenance issues.
“When you are debating topics like are we going to do Project ‘A’ or are we going to do Project ‘B’? Important considerations is that it is multi-purpose and it meets the needs of many different people,” said Schwartz.
RC Strategies also delved into the feasibility process where the company encouraged the recreation board to give a set process to community groups of best practices in attempting to bring a desired project to fruition.
“It’s not necessarily streamlining the process, but just help to have a process to educate the groups on. There is still going to be some red tape or hoops for groups to jump through, but if they understand what those steps are, it will help with the completion process,” said Schwartz.
RC Strategies also examined lease agreements that benefit the widest range of people for utility factor for recreation.
“Collaboration is one of our values. If the use of space is made too exclusive and not welcoming to people, then it’s not really benefiting the community as a whole when you have that,” said Schwartz.
Collaboration is also a big thing with community groups and the town for park space.
“Geographic distribution and accessibility and affordability. These are spaces that are free for people to access with no user fee attached to it, so we want to make sure park spaces are spread out and people have equal access to them,” said Schwartz. “For more specialized spaces, maybe have a hub location, but trails and open spaces, you want to make sure are spread out,” said Schwartz.
Which the majority of recreation opportunities in town offered because of volunteerism, RC Strategies encouraged the town to support volunteers as much as possible in making it as easy as possible in giving the tools for volunteerism.
“Partnerships are good. We want to strengthen current ones, we want to develop new ones that maximize capacity and community benefit,” said Schwartz. “This also includes working with the M.D. of Taber, making sure area residents have access to services. This includes engaging with schools to make sure there are joint-use agreements in place because there is not a lot of indoor dryland space available, but there are school gyms, so we want to make sure we can access those gyms after school hours.”
For programming, RC Strategies noted instead of trying to re-invent the wheel with programming that already exists, to try and venture out to new initiatives that may increase participation levels.
“How do we animate some of our park spaces? How do we make sure we are reaching youth after school?,” asked Schwartz.
Also, a town may be brimming with recreational activities, which include arts and culture, but it means little if residents are not made aware of them.
“The town already utilizes a bunch of different methods to advertise on behalf of recreation, but the town needs to be made aware of how people are accessing advertising be it in a leisure guide or a signage board or whatever,” said Schwartz.
Using taxpayers dollars, RC Strategies stressed how the town needs to be fiscally responsible in delivering recreation, but at the same time, to think outside the box for the purpose of recreation.
“We don’t necessarily want to be super focused on cost recovery. We want effective cost recovery to be able to provide a variety of programs. But, a lot of communities we’ve worked with are so focused on cost recovery that they end up being afraid of trying new programming because it might not make enough money, or they are afraid of providing some type of facility because you can’t really charge user fees for it,” said Schwartz.
“Instead of thinking of cost recovery, we are thinking of it in terms of subsidy levels. Instead of thinking if we are able to provide this programing at a 75 per cent recovery level, we should be thinking of people able to provide this service at a 25 per cent subsidy level, because it provides this amount of community benefits. It’s the same thing, but it’s a philosophical mindset. Subsidy levels should align with community benefit.”
Taber Recreation Board accepted RC Strategies’ presentation as information.