After last week's blog entry about some of my ongoing questions about the soccer centre, imagine my surprise when we were told after Executive Committee that there would be a special meeting of council to update us on the soccer centre project. This meeting happened on Thursday afternoon, out at the centre. For me, it was my first time out there (I wasn't able to attend the tour of facilities given to new councillors at the beginning of the term) - it's bigger than I expected, and still under construction (and over budget - they figure that they're still about $150,000 short for construction costs, which will be met by keeping the levy on taxpayers until 2015 - the original budget of $11.1 million would have had the levy go only until 2011 - the new budget is close to $16.9 million.)
Unfortunately, the questions still outnumber the answers. At this stage of the game, for a project of this size, which is taking a direct hit on everybody's tax bill for its construction, and for which taxpayers will likely continue to for pay the operating costs, this is not being handled in ways that can be considered either open or accountable.
There is still no logical answer on why this location was selected. The entire contingency fund for the project was taken up with dealing with the excessive water on the site - one has to wonder why basic soil testing wasn't required before making the decision. I haven't yet seen the meeting minutes from when the decision was made, but on Thursday, it was suggested that part of the logic was the the First Nations University of Canada might consider building in the area - I have no idea whether any conversations about that had taken place, or whether this is just searching for possible justification after the deed is done. If we were looking for a location close to a post-secondary institution, why wasn't land close to SIAST considered for a site? The city actually owns some land there - perhaps that would have kept costs down a little. There are even two soccer pitches close by - they're having to build new outdoor soccer pitches by the new centre.
At various times we've been told that the Health Region would be able to use the building, that this was part of a partnership for healthier living. Well, we now know that the building as constructed won't accommodate the Health Region - we also now know that part of the recipe for healthier living is to offer at the canteen such healthy alternatives as hot dogs and slushes - the kind of options that school boards are in the process of removing from their cafeterias in the name of healthier eating.
Although it has been suggested that this will be a multi-use facility, the artificial turf being installed is only suitable for soccer. And no showers are being installed in the dressing rooms - apparently soccer players don't need such amenities, although it certainly might make it more attractive for other users (and for friends and families of sweaty soccer players). Exactly who these other users might be isn't clear - there is space on the second floor for weight and cardio rooms, but no budget to pay for equipment for these rooms.
As I've said, I understand that facilities such as these make Prince Albert a better place to live, although this one appears to have a fairly limited focus and potential use. The capital levy for this project (the part that taxpayers will ultimately pay for) has doubled from $4 million to $8 million - that's a hefty price tag to expect the taxpayer to cough up for, if most are unlikely to ever directly benefit. And details about the project continue to be kept as closely guarded secrets - not the right way to handle a project if we truly intend to be open and accountable.
"There is at least one thing more brutal than the truth, and that is the consequence of saying less than the truth." - Ti-Grace Atkinson