After several days of uncertainty, the Chestermere Regional Recreation Centre will remain open.
The future of the facility was initially called into question Sept. 24, when, following an in-camera session during a Rocky View County (RVC) council meeting, Area Coun. Jerry Gautreau got choked up as he made a motion directing administration to immediately close the facility due to safety concerns.
“This is a sad day for me,” he said. “I’ve been advocating for this facility for a very, very long time.”
While the rec centre is, according to a Sept. 25 RVC press release, primarily used by residents of Calgary and Chestermere, RVC owns both the land and the building, and the County has leased the facility to the Chestermere Regional Community Association (CRCA) for decades at no charge. Several councillors expressed their sympathies to those affected by the closure, but maintained it was a necessary step.
“I just want to say to Coun. Gautreau, I know this is a hard decision and I can see the tears welling in your eyes,” Coun. Kim McKylor said. “This is a difficult day. However, I don’t think this County should take the safety of children and families lightly.”
Gautreau’s motion was carried unanimously, as was a second motion directing administration to explore the sale of the land or remediation of the facility.
“This is not a great day to have to be on council and do something like this, but I’ve got to say that I don’t think we have any other choice for the protection of the people that use that facility to make sure that their safety is paramount,” Reeve Greg Boehlke said.
According to the release, a structural analysis indicated a portion of the facility’s roof was at risk of failure if subjected to a heavy load of snow. A forecast of “wet, heavy snow” ahead of the weekend led RVC to the decision that closing the facility was the “best course of action at this time in order to ensure public safety.”
The analysis and subsequent inspection by the City of Chestermere were prompted by roof collapses and other issues at similar facilities in Calgary and elsewhere, according to the press release.
“The roof of the building’s Red Rink was found to be insufficient, and it is unclear at this time how that might impact the safety of the rest of the building,” the release stated.
In the release, Boehlke said the County was aware users of the facility would be impacted by the decision, but expressed a hope they would appreciate why it was made.
“We don’t have all the answers right now, but we simply won’t take risks with people’s lives,” Boehlke said via the release. “We will be working with community partners to determine the long-term future of the building, but as of [Sept. 27], it is closed until further notice.”
In a statement Sept. 25, CRCA Board President Paul Godley said the board was caught off-guard by the decision, which he characterized as "misguided, surprising and unfortunate," pointing to a letter from Stantec Consulting Ltd. that stated its professional opinion was that the closure was "not necessary in the immediate future, unless there are significant changes to the forecast."
"We are saddened by this decision and are currently trying to reach out to thousands of our affected members ad user groups to put alternate arrangements in place," Godley said.
Boehlke maintained the risk simply wasn't worth keeping the facility open.
"I know folks are upset. I know people are left in the lurch by having plans and not being able to go there and have [those plans] materialize, but it is safety," he said. "If we didn't do something and there was, God forbid, a worst-case scenario of a catastrophe, then we'd be chastised for not doing anything."
A City of Chestermere press release Sept. 25 indicated Mayor Marshall Chalmers and Chief Administrative Officer Bernie Morton were “in the process of learning more” about the County’s decision, and were collaborating with both RVC and CRCA to address challenges stemming from the closure.
"Resident safety is of the utmost importance to us and we are working with RVC to discuss how to best approach these challenges," Mayor Chalmers said in an email to Rocky View Weekly. "We are committed to finding a solution to mitigate concerns so that safe recreation services can continue to be provided in our community."
A press release from the City the following day indicated they had met with RVC and CRCA to discuss the safety concerns.
Then, the morning of Sept. 27, RVC council scheduled a special meeting focused solely on the future of the recreation centre. According to the meeting's agenda, RVC administration originally recommended the closure based on a previous Stantec letter indicating the Red Arena was not up to the 1995 building code. The county was then advised of the new Stantec report – cited by CRCA and dated Sept. 25 – and the possibility of implementing a snow-loading program.A press release issued by the County the same day stated that, based on the new information, council had decided to keep the facility open, so long as CRCA immediately implemented a snow monitoring and removal program. CRCA has committed to that condition, according to the release.