Proposed fitness center expansion may return to the budget table

Erin Perkins
By Erin Perkins
January 2nd, 2013

The question of funding for a proposed $1.5 million expansion to the Grand Forks Aquatic Centre fitness facilities may return to tax payers this year.

The proposed project, which would expand the existing 600 square foot fitness facility to 3,000 square feet, was put to voters during a referendum on Nov. 19, 2011. It failed by 76 votes – 969 ‘yes’ votes to 1, 045 ‘no’ votes.

This month the recreation committee who designed the expansion plans will be taking one last look at the project and deciding whether they want to try again or take a different approach in finding funding, said John Mackey, director of recreation facilities for Grand Forks and District Recreation. 

“It’s a bit disheartening to lose by (76) votes,” said Mackey. He said the committee was a bit “disillusioned” by the vote, especially after putting more than 10 years of work into the proposal. He feels the November referendum was tainted because it was running alongside the two other referendum questions that were passed including the one for an emergency water system and infrastructure repairs.

“It’s a tough choice (for the committee),” said Mackey. “It is infrastructure people don’t want to pay for but it affects a lot of people and will impact our quality of life. A lot of people rely on those infrastructures (like the pool, arena and fitness center) for their lifestyle choice. These are amenities people want and often attracted them to living here.”

Grand Forks mayor Brian Taylor originally brought up the referendum reexamination during his regular report to City Council last month.

He said the timing has to do with the upcoming budgeting, which happens in March.

“It’s only being discussed because there has to be a decision made by March if the (city) is going to begin budgeting for it or planning around it,” said Taylor.

 “We have a long way to go for expansion of the new fitness center, but now it is back on the agenda,” said Taylor.

The expansion proposal was 11 years in the making, having initially been proposed to council in 2000 for $246,000. It was rejected then returned in 2010 with new drawings, an environmentally-friendly design and a new price tag. In April of 2011 the recreation commission to the board of the Regional District of the Kootenay Boundary suggested the project proceed to a referendum in November 2011 where it was turned down.

The existing facility is packed full of fitness equipment and can only accommodate 8 to 10 people at a time, with some users being turned away at peak times due to the small capacity. The new fitness center and studio would have held up to 100 people.

The project would have been funded by the taxpayers of the City of Grand Forks and Rural Area D at an increased cost ranging between $40 and $70 a year over the next 20 years depending on house value. A $250,000 home would have paid $42.82 said Mackey during an interview held in December 2011.

The next recreation committee meeting is Thursday, Jan. 17.

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