Some Winnipeggers are questioning the city's multimillion-dollar plan to build a new recreation complex in Waverley West amid potential closures and budget cuts to other recreation facilities.
The proposed $71-million South Winnipeg Recreation Campus will feature a lap tank, leisure pool, fitness area, walking and running track, and multiple gyms. It will also include a community library, multiple adjacent fields and, in the future, the possibility of twin arenas. The city is in talks with the YMCA-YWCA to provide aquatic services.
The City of Winnipeg will put $26.9 million into the project, with the hope of the province contributing $20.4 million and Ottawa $24.4 million.
The campus is part of a larger development plan in Waverley West.
A high school is to be attached to the recreation centre, and an elementary school and daycare are to be built nearby. The city has been planning to build a recreation centre in the area for over a decade — just as the subdivision's first homes were being constructed.
Michel Durand-Wood, author of the Dear Winnipeg blog, opposes the new campus' funding when other recreation sites might shut down under the constraints of the city's 2020-23 budget.
"We can't go funding new stuff when we can't afford the old stuff," said Durand-Wood, who has been critical of local infrastructure spending in the past.
The application to the provincial and federal governments for funding of the complex comes as councillors mull tightening the community service department's purse strings. The department has proposed it would close five city pools — including Kinsmen Sherbrook, Windsor Park and Transcona Kinsmen Centennial — and reduce hours at other aquatic facilities to meet targets in the multi-year budget.
"We can't go funding new stuff when we can't afford the old stuff." - Michel Durand-Wood, author of the Dear Winnipeg blog
The department has also said it would have to consider closing the Westwood, Fort Garry and West Kildonan libraries and reduce hours at other branches. Cuts to grants and funding for community centres and organizations such as the Assiniboine Park Conservancy are also a possibility.
"To me, it's a big conversation about sprawl versus infill and the consequences of that," said Durand-Wood, adding councillors should have mentioned the funding for Waverley West when cuts to other facilities were being discussed.
Durand-Wood said the recreation site closures could lead to concentrated poverty.
"In a lot of older neighbourhoods, and downtown, and the North End, if they're not happy that they've lost services, a lot of people don't have the means to leave," Durand-Wood said. "And the people that do have the means to leave, they do leave."
Barret Miller, chairman of Friends of Sherbrook Pool in the West End, said he wouldn't be opposed to the new recreation complex's funding if there weren't proposed cuts elsewhere.
"In a lot of older neighbourhoods, and downtown, and the North End, if they're not happy that they've lost services, a lot of people don't have the means to leave. And the people that do have the means to leave, they do leave." - Michel Durand-Wood, author of the Dear Winnipeg blog
"I support access to aquatic education and recreation for all citizens of Winnipeg," Miller said. "It doesn't need to be a take from one place and put into another."
Saving money isn't worth risking tragedies such as swimming deaths, he said. "What is the cost of one child who drowns because they did not learn to swim properly, because they didn't have an accessible, affordable community aquatic centre like the Kinsmen Sherbrook Pool?"
However, a recreation facility in Waverley West is a necessity for the rapidly growing subdivision, said area Coun. Janice Lukes.
"Waverley West is the size of Brandon," Lukes said. "When you build a city the size of Brandon (roughly 50,000 residents), it's an obligation to put in recreation."
Waverley West residents support Winnipeg's community centres through their property taxes, she said. Additionally, more than $117.4 million generated through land sales in the Bridgwater neighbourhood have been directed to Manitoba's Housing and Rehabilitation Development Fund to address needs in the inner city, Lukes said.
— with files from Maggie Macintosh
Updated on Thursday, November 28, 2019 at 9:09 PM CST: Fixes incorrect number