Civic facilities key to a strong community

Tyler Clarke
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Municipal subsidization of civic buildings might weigh heavily on people’s minds during tax season, but try imagining Prince Albert without its arts and recreational centres.


City Hall

“If you close your eyes and you said to yourself ‘think of the greatest city you can possibly think of -- your favourite city,’” E. A. Rawlinson Centre general manager Darren McCaffery challenged.

“Chances are, the reasons why that city is vital and great, in people’s mind, is because there’s stuff to do -- there’s stuff going on. It’s a happening place to be.”

Prince Albert Regional Economic Action Committee chair and city councillor Rick Orr echoes this sentiment, noting that the city would remain fairly stagnant if not for its facilities.

“When someone’s looking at relocating a business or they’re coming here looking at moving here, some of the things they always look at are, No. 1 the education system, what health services are available and then they go to sports recreation and culture,” he said.

“What keeps those families in the community? Quite often it’s those ancillary things we take for granted.”

City administration is currently preparing a comprehensive review of all city-owned facilities, including a rundown of everything that takes place in each facility and by how much the city subsidizes each facility.

Although Mayor Greg Dionne has stated that he has a hit list of four facilities he wants to see the city divest itself of, the city’s elected officials won’t have administration’s comprehensive report until later this year.

Prince Albert and District Chamber of Commerce CEO Merle Lacert isn’t envious of those on city council charged with making these difficult decisions.

While the city has made great strides in the past decade with the opening of the E. A. Rawlinson Centre, the Mann Art Gallery and Alfred Jenkins Field House, there are still some major social and cultural infrastructure backlogs to fund.

“Moving forward, if we wish to have a pool we’ll need a new one,” he said, noting that the city’s two existing public pools both appear to be on their last legs.

“If we wish to maintain or grow our WHL base, it’s definitely been noted that we need a larger arena dedicated to a WHL team.”


The Margo Fournier Centre

One big question in the city’s building debate so far has been the Margo Fournier Centre.

City council has discussed the possibility of divesting themselves of the building in the past, with Dionne having noted that it was supposed to close when the Alfred Jenkins Field House opened.

Should the Margo Fournier Centre’s recreational programming shift to the Alfred Jenkins Field House it might open the building up to the arts, McCaffery suggested.

If you close your eyes and you said to yourself ‘think of the greatest city you can possibly think of -- your favourite city. Chances are, the reasons why that city is vital and great, in people’s mind, is because there’s stuff to do -- there’s stuff going on. It’s a happening place to be. Darren McCaffery

“I know the Prince Albert Arts Centre is at capacity in being able to service all of the guilds and things that they’ve got,” he said.

“There could be a large building that’s dedicated to community arts groups -- not from the performance side, but on the work side and rehearsal side and on the training and education side.”

The Margo Fournier Centre’s proximity to the E. A. Rawlinson Centre and Mann Art Gallery might be beneficial in this respect, McCaffery said.

“There might be a good business case for it,” he said. “It doesn’t have to cost taxpayers a lot. As an arts group, we can band together and either find a facility that’s out there and repurpose it or build something new.”

Back in 1984 when the centre was named the Margo Fournier Centre it was slated to become an arts centre, Fournier’s son Laurent Fournier said.

At the time, city council was “so certain that it would be an arts centre” that they named it after Fournier, Laurent said, noting that it would have been fitting for his mother, who was best known in the community for her work in organizing local choir groups.

“There was such a hullabaloo about it from two different standpoints,” Laurent said.

“One was a standpoint from the recreational people who used the facility …. They didn’t like losing the facility, and then the arts people didn’t like it either, because they were going to get a hand-me-down.”

Ultimately, the arts lost out, with the centre remaining primarily a recreational centre -- a shame, Laurent said, noting that sports facilities still far outnumber arts-centred facilities in Prince Albert.


Looking forward

In the city’s review of civic facilities, an important part of the equation will be factoring in the needs of surrounding municipalities, Orr said.

“I don’t think a city can do it alone any longer,” he said, citing the hefty price tag that comes with any major construction project.

“Say we have to build a new swimming pool -- we couldn’t do that without now looking regionally,” he added.

“We need to challenge our experts in the planning and development department to look at us as regionally, at 100,000 (people).”

It takes a great deal of forward thinking when it comes to funding major facilities, Lacert said, noting that their impact takes place over the long term.

“City facilities not only enhance the community for the people who live here … but secondly, they become a major consideration for the attraction of any other businesses or residents,” he said.

“The more diverse a community can be the more attractive it is.”

Although he’s justifiably an advocate for the arts, McCaffery agrees with Lacert’s assessment, in that a more diverse community is also a stronger one.

“I think the more that we have places where we gather together and celebrate being a community, whether it’s at a Raiders game or (at the E. A. Rawlinson Centre),” he said. “That’s where you start to forge the spirit of the community.”

Organizations: E. A. Rawlinson Centre, Margo Fournier Centre, Prince Albert Regional Economic Action Committee Alfred Jenkins Field House Mann Art Gallery and Alfred Jenkins Field House Prince Albert Arts Centre Raiders

Geographic location: Prince Albert

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