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Thursday, January 25, 2018

Recreation Advisory Board reviews revised Pincher Creek curling rink site plan

Caption: Revised Pincher Creek curling rink site plan
Jonathan Skrimshire - The Pincher Creek Recreation Advisory Board reviewed the revised site plan for the proposed new Pincher Creek curling rink at their meeting of January 17. The Board, comprised of Councillor Mark Barber and six members of the community, engaged in a lively and candid exchange of views on the project. The discussion focused on issues of green space loss, the impact on the existing soccer field, the validity of certain arguments in favour of retaining the curling rink in the downtown core, and the question of public input into the siting decision.


Impact on green space

The question of green space loss remains a hot-button topic with several board members. Board chair John Verhagen was unequivocal on the matter. "I totally disagree with the concept of that building going there", he said. "Cities all over the world are ripping up buildings to get green space back", he continued, expressing dismay that Pincher Creek appears to be heading in the opposite direction. "The question is, how much value do we put on green space?", he asked, suggesting that retaining existing green space and maximizing public access to the creek should be priorities for the community.

Impact on the soccer field

Recreation Advisory Board discussions of a previous version of the site plan featured strong objections to the loss of the popular soccer field north of the Multi-Purpose Facility. Member at large Kari Grandoni reiterated that concern succinctly: "With this curling rink, it doesn't matter if it's shifted left or right. If it goes in, we've lost one of our fields."

In response to an email request for comment, member at large Judith Green mirrored Grandoni's concerns, stating that "a building in this location results in the loss of the present soccer field in one of the most visually desirable and wind protected locations" and also "necessitates the expenditure of tax dollars to replace the loss of the soccer field elsewhere."

Speaking to considerations addressed by the Facilities Planning Steering Committee, Diane Burt Stuckey, Director of Community Services, indicated that "this was one of the points of discussion about this location. It will impact the field. So there has been some forward planning to think about where future soccer fields may go."

Councillor Mark Barber indicated that progress on the curling rink project is tied to the acquisition of land to replace the soccer field that would be impacted by the current siting recommendation. "A lot is very dependent upon land negotiations going forward with the sports fields", he said. "If the land negotiations don't go in a positive way everything's going to be set back for a couple of years". Barber explained that the effort to acquire suitable land for the creation of two new fields is ongoing. "We're hoping those negotiations will conclude within the next month or two", he said.

Impact on accessibility for students

The committee briefly debated certain arguments that have been put forward in favour of retaining the rink in the downtown core. It has been suggested in other forums that an alternate location would create access issues for students who currently walk to the facility. Barber presented data provided by the Curling Club, indicating that "there are 430 youth coming from the different schools participating at the curling rink on an ongoing basis as part of their school program". Verhagen requested confirmation of that figure. "I question those numbers and I'd like to see those numbers substantiated", he said.

Green questioned the validity of the statement that schools will not pay to bus students to the curling rink, which had been cited as an issue were the rink to be located outside the downtown core. Verhagen also questioned that claim, stating that it was his understanding that local schools do indeed pay for transport for curricular activities. In response, Barber suggested that he would be open to siting the curling rink in an alternate location "if I can get can get confirmation from the board of education that those 430 kids can be bussed".

Concerns over public input

The question of public input was also a hot-button topic. Verhagen displayed a degree of frustration with the issue in the course of expressing some forceful remarks. "My biggest concern in all this is that this is not being made public and it seems like the decision's already been made", he said. "This is coming across as being a done deal. That is the problem." Verhagen expressed concern that this perception would cause public disengagement from both the curling rink project and other Council committee work. "This seems like it's being ramrodded through", he said. "There's been no public input."

The exchange wasn't without moments of friction. Member at large Faith Zachar, who is also Chair of the Facilities Planning Steering Committee, took exception to certain of Verhagen's comments. "We have been working on this for three years and we have considered every site in town", she said. "I really resent the fact that you say this is ramrodded through."

Burt Stuckey struck a more conciliatory tone in framing the work that has been done to date and the process going forward. "I think really, in fairness, the [Facilities] committee and Council are finishing up an exercise to see how [the curling rink] would fit on this site", she said, indicating that the revised drawings will be presented to Council, and then "it is up to Council to decide how they proceed with public consultations".

Verhagen continued to advocate for public input on the project in remarks directed to Councillor Barber. "I hope you take it back to Council, saying we can't just ram this through. We have to do a meeting, advertised to the public in multiple forms, so that everybody in town has a right to sit down and [express their views]", he said. "I would bet that if [the Town] put out a big [public notice in local media, saying] this is what we are proposing: we want to build a curling rink on top of the soccer field [...] you're going to get a ton of people walk in this place demanding what the hell is going on."

Next steps

The revised curling rink site plan is being presented to both Pincher Creek Town Council and Council for the Municipal District of Pincher Creek for review and comment at their meetings of January 22 and 23.

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