By Greg Price
The idea of the construction of a multi-use dry sports facility in the Town of Taber continues to get floated to several delegations.
Having already made a pitch to town council and to stakeholders at a recent recreation master plan workshop, Graham Abela made a presentation to the Taber Recreation Board at its March 5 meeting.
“This committee, for about three years now, has been looking at developing some sort of fieldhouse, dry sports complex within the Town of Taber. We’ve been waiting for recreation master plan meetings in order to get some strategic decisions in regards to where the town will go with that,” said Abela.
“For multiple reasons, those meetings didn’t happen, but recently they did and we gave a presentation at that meeting.”
A dry sports facility is multi-use that take sports usually done in the summer time outside and goes under a building in which the sport can be played in the six or seven months of the cold season for southern Alberta.
“There really is no fieldhouse location where individuals can play soccer which was the initial impetus for this. But there are also walking trails, batting cages, climbing walls, racquetball/squash courts, a combatives room, and a location where we can hold large events,” said Abela. “We expect this building to have up to 800 seats to allow for concerts or whatever.”
The committee has examined the demographics to see if the Town of Taber and surrounding M.D. of Taber and Vauxhall areas (approximately 16,000 people total) could support such an initiative. According to a 2011 census, Taber is the fourth-youngest small town in Canada. Taber has about 30 per cent of its population under the age of 20 years old.
“We have several activities we can undertake in there. We have, of course, soccer, and we also have a very positive program in girls rugby.”
“We also have a walking track planned for the facility, a child play area and the field can be used for batting, catching grounders or running the bases in baseball,” said Abela. “Football, lacrosse, all the way up to where you can have a major gymnastics competition in this building.”
The building would contain an 85-by-200-foot long indoor soccer complex that would have artificial grass and under it would be a core-rubber floor.
“It’s quite common in sports complexes know where we could have up to eight volleyball courts, two basketball courts, a tennis court and with the different lines you can put on the field, the floor makes it multi-use,” said Abela. “We can have conferences in there. We’ve been told it takes about 21 man hours to move the grass off of there. It’s not something you want to do everyday, but it’s something you can plan for.”
Abela noted it would increase the cultural amenities within the community. Being a dry sports complex, it would not be associated with the high maintenance costs of facilities that feature water including pools and ice arenas.
“The operating costs of having this facility year after year, after year, we want to make it cost neutral or make a slight profit for whoever has it,” said Abela.
The committee Abela is part of for the dry sports facility drafted a projected revenue/expenses forecast for the potential facility which demonstrated there may a net gain with revenues exceeding expenses.
“When you look at that, I was very conservative as far as my revenues and I was overly aggressive with the expenses. For example, in Lethbridge, the fieldhouse rents for $117 an hour and I put in $50 an hour,” said Abela.
Abela noted the dry sports complex idea aligns with the ideals set out in town strategic planning session in which they came out with some goals and objectives with how Taber would look in the next five to 10 years.
“One of their items was to strengthen their core infrastructure and services in a responsible manner. Also, under the concept of family and community, council has stated they would like to build a community that is affordable and attractive, create and promote recreational opportunities that are recognized regionally in all seasons,” said Abela. “Also, foster cultural opportunities in Taber through improved facilities, support events that recognize our cultural diversity and make a safe community that is healthy, innovative and environmentally aware. Our committee has looked at that with each one of those bullet points could be met with the building of this facility.”
The building the committee is looking at are sprung structures which are tensioned fabric structures.
“A sprung structure has a membrane that is stretched around aluminum rims and inside that stretched membrane is installation. It provides for a building that is 45 to 60 per cent more energy efficient than a pre-manufactured building,” said Abela. “The building allows for natural light to emerge through panels situated throughout the building. The footprint of the building is smaller, it doesn’t need as much concrete and the building has a 30-year warranty on it. That is for the aluminum, 20-year for the fabric, and it has a low operating cost because of the environmental factors.”
Abela confirmed the dry sports complex committee has an investor lined up that is willing to build the facility, with the caveat that there is an understanding the town would lease back the building over a period of time and eventually own it.
“It’s not money upfront the town would have to pay,” said Abela. “They wouldn’t have to pay it through MSI funding, through loans, debentures etc. in order to capitalize on this type of building.”
The committee has approached the arts council to see if there were some synergies with the building they would be looking to build and the dry sports complex that could host the types of events the arts council desires in joining forces to build the complex together.
“We can share the facility, share the administration, share the washrooms , share the really expensive things to build a building like this and the sprung building is an excellent building for theatres. They have excellent acoustics,” said Abela. “The arts council’s mandate is a little different than ours and they have taken our suggestion, but I haven’t heard from them if they are interested.”
There are several locations in the community the complex could be situated, where one desired location has not been set in stone yet according to Abela. The confirmed investor for the complex has some suggestions, but is flexible.
“The goal of our committee would to be to raise funds in kind to contribute to the initial costs of this building so it is a slow as possible for the town to hopefully pay back,” said Abela. “If the people who have already told me they will give contributions in kind without even the permission to move forward from council which we need, we are at just short of a half million dollars raised already for this facility.”
The dry sports complex has pitched in $10,000 to pay for a feasibility study which is currently ongoing by an architect in Saskatoon who is very familiar with sprung buildings.
“He will providing an layout of how the building will look like along with a cost model for the building which will allow us to come back to you with the actual numbers in relation to what this may actually look like,” said Abela.
The committee put out a survey to the public that was tabulated last week which showed over 600 respondents to the survey which has approximately a 2,500 resident representation through the survey.
“So far we have 90 per cent, give or take one per cent either way which agree or strongly agree with this facility,” said Abela. “That includes representatives from the Municipal District of Taber, Vauxhall, the Town of Taber and others.”
Recreation board chairman Luke Wijna noted his support for the project, but would like to see some of the crunched numbers through the feasibility study first.
“You can see 90 per cent of people support it, but if they see a big increase in their taxes to pay for it, those numbers would probably be different I would assume,” said Wijna. “The big thing for me is can we afford it? Our registrations are going up every year with what we already have with facilities.”
M.D. councilor and recreation board member Merrill Harris echoed Wijna’s concerns about costs, noting projected utility costs of $45,000 yearly seemed very low for the facility, referencing a 6,000-square foot compound in his own farm operations knowing of the utility costs.
“At the end of the day, I’m not a town tax payer, but I know the town will come looking to the M.D. for money and we already provide money for recreation and they’ll be looking to come for more,” said Harris. “I appreciate any opportunity given to kids to do something useful and productive, but at the end of the day, can the individuals in this town afford it? As long as it is able to make a go of it on its own (cost neutral), yeah I would support it. But if it’s going to be a big draw on the taxpayers of the Town of Taber and the M.D., I would be more hesitant. But I support the concept.”
Abela countered that there are 1,200 sprung facilities that currently exist that utility costs can be derived from.
“They know exactly what it costs to heat them, exactly what it costs to light them. That $1 per square foot is directly from Sprung,” said Abela, adding there is more to weigh than just dollar and cents costs. “It brings a lot more value than the first initial glimpse. I would like to see the social return on investment it brings, not only to the community, but to the business community and the children. I think it brings in more value than it costs.”