Grand Forks city council on Monday, Jan. 25, voted unanimously to defer plans to build a new community centre until the 2022 budget cycle. The vote came after a staff report advising council to hold off on a financial commitment pending completion of major projects under the auspices of the Disaster Mitigation and Relief Fund (DMAF), through which the city is buying Grand Forks’ properties damaged by the 2018 freshet and relocating some homes on those properties.
City bylaws would require council to seek residents’ support for the project through a referendum, if council were to decide to include the project in its 2022 budget. The approximately 13,000 square foot centre is designed to be built around the Jack Goddard Arena and the aquatic centre at the intersection of 19th Street and Central Avenue, according to recent architectural designs submitted to council.
A recent cost estimate puts the tentative budget for the community centre project, spearheaded by Community Futures Boundary’s (CFB) Grand Forks officer, at around $9.7 million. Costs would be shared between the City of Grand Forks and the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary (RDKB), according to staff’s report.
“It was a very difficult report to write, 10 months into the job in Grand Forks. I know a lot of work has gone into the community centre,” Chief Administrative Officer Duncan Redfearn told council at chambers.
“At this time, the recommendation is that the city is really not positioned well to make this decision,” he explained.
Redfearn highlighted that Grand Forks’ buy-out program saw $5 million in extra costs in early 2020.
“There’s really a lot of uncertainty around that project,” he said, qualifying that the city’s financial obligations would be much clearer later this year. Redfearn also suggested that the city assess the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Councillors who spoke at Monday’s meeting said they agreed with Redfearn’s recommendations.
“Moving forward and putting it to a referendum when our taxpayers have no idea what the costs on the DMAF will be, in my opinion, would ultimately fail,” Councillor Christine Thompson said.
“I think by deferring it, we may be saving the project,” Councillor Chris Moslin said.
Speaking next, Councillor Everett Baker said he was “strong proponent of a community centre.” Deferring the project would be “practical,” he added.
“I think this is a good move — to not let it die,” Mayor Brian Taylor said.
Boundary-Similkameen MLA Roly Russell, who advocated for the project while serving as Area D Director on the RDKB’s board, said he was “disappointed” that the project is not yet going to a referendum.
“A huge amount of energy went into preparing a good comprehensive package of information for the community, to inform a referendum in 2020. So, I certainly hope and look forward to this coming back to the table soon, before costs escalate, grant opportunities fade, and what is still a robust report grows stale,” he told The Gazette.
CFB General Manager Jennifer Wetmore declined to comment on council’s decision, pending further discussion by CFB’s board of directors.