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“The time is now”: Soccer rallies for indoor field house construction

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They’re pleading with council to not kick the ball further down the pitch.

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With about 2,200 registered athletes this season and having access to only two boarded indoor fields at Millennium Place, which also requires scheduling with other sport stakeholders, the Sherwood Park District Soccer Association (SPDSA) asked Strathcona County Council to hold off on any further delay of building an indoor field house within the county.

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As of Tuesday, Nov. 21, when the group presented at the Council Priorities Committee, the recommended three-year Capital Plan as part of Budget 2024 saw the $65 million indoor field house pushed out to 2028.

As of May 2022, about $8 million has already been spent on the project between land and design. In spring 2022 when council was forced to reprioritize its capital projects based on the state of the county’s reserves and other finances, the project’s scope was recommended to be reduced from $90M as well as moving the design work to 2025 and 2026 with construction moved to 2028.

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The SPDSA has been advocating for more space since 2014.

“There’s a continued disappointment as we witness further delay of construction of this badly needed facility,” Dave Friesen, SPDSA president told council on Tuesday. “What worries us is not the nine years that has passed but rather the omission of the facility once again in the upcoming capital budget.”

“The proposed facility will be glorious if it’s ever built. But we keep kicking this decision further down the road — what looks to be at least 14 years now and counting. We as a community deserve better, our kids certainly deserve better, and I think we, collectively, have struggled to deliver. What we’re asking is that council resume work on the design of the multi-purpose rec facility for the current residents of our county,” he added.

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This week local soccer association reps encouraged Strathcona County Council to work with administration to include an indoor field house in the 2024 Capital Budget. Lindsay Morey/News Staff/file
This week local soccer association reps encouraged Strathcona County Council to work with administration to include an indoor field house in the 2024 Capital Budget. Lindsay Morey/News Staff/file

Due to a lack of local space, soccer players experienced reduced game and practice time, travel far across the Capital region for both practices and games, and they also rely on school gymnasiums for practices which is not an ideal surface to properly learn the nuances of ball control.

From October to March, local soccer families spend 300,000 hours outside of the community primarily just for practices and about 50 teams will never play a home game in Strathcona County. About 1.16 million kilometres are driven by families, spending more than a million dollars in fuel.

If it had access to a year-round facility, SPDSA could host various tournaments that would bring in hundreds of teams annually, which would spur economic spinoffs for hotels, restaurants, retail shops, and gas stations. In August alone, the association hosted two provincials, which brought in 60 teams, accounting about 1,200 people, in four days, and it was estimated to have generated $1.5 million in economic impact.

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SPDSA’s executive director Martin Dugas suggested that the county should take a phased approach to the project and not build the whole facility at once, as well as public-private partnerships for funding.

“The longer we wait, the more facility debt we will have and the economic and social opportunities that this facility generates for businesses and residents will be passed on to other communities,” he said. “We need to start with something, something possibly smaller in scale, but something now.”

“We are asking you, our elected officials, to hold administration accountable to exhaust every option to expedite a solution. We are asking you, council, to build a lasting legacy for our children rather than waiting for the next elected group to do so… The time is now, the need is now for the residents who live here now,” the executive director outlined.

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In response, all of council agreed this facility is needed — some, such as Ward 8 Coun. Katie Berghofer, said waiting another few years is “unreasonable”, but the challenge is balancing the budget along with all capital priorities and pressures.

“I don’t think it’s lost on any one of us on this bench about the need for this now,” noted Ward 6 Coun. Corey-Ann Hartwick.

While saying he understands the need, Ward 4 Coun. Bill Tonita wondered if residents will support a tax increase for this.

“What’s your appetite for a tax increase, another two per cent increase to accommodate this? At the end of the day, the money has to come from somewhere,” he said.

Countering that point, SPDSA members said local families are already paying to travel outside of the community as well as rent facilities in other communities, so they’re comfortable with spending an extra $40 a year, which would be the equivalent of the two per cent increase.

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Ward 3 Coun. Lorne Harvey hinted at the idea of shifting the project back to 2024, as he said he doesn’t support moving it out to 2028.

“To me, this is important,” Harvey said, adding the long travel times resonated with him, especially reflecting on the number of local families commuting during the winter on icy roads.

Recalling the support at the doors during the last campaign, Ward 2 Coun. Dave Anderson agreed that a staged approach would be better than nothing.

“I don’t accept that we’ll push this out another five years,” he said. “The good, better, best is a great option… We should be able to get something up and running and start from there.”

Indoor field house would support more than 20 user groups

The soccer representatives were joined by members from local baseball, minor football, and pickle ball, all of whom could utilize the indoor field house. More than 20 user groups have been identified to use the facility, and some of those could include bocce, volleyball, basketball, field hockey, gymnastic, softball, baseball, rugby, fitness classes, running, and ultimate frisbee — which represents more than 10,000 registrants within the county.

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“These programs are suffering from limited facilities and there’s a negative impact on our healthy lifestyles of our youth and the pride in our community. As a community, we believe that we are failing our citizens by not providing the adequate facilities that they desperately need,” Friesen added.

Mayor Rod Frank was interested in getting more information about the possibility of more private sector support, and said the demand is only based on a question of financial stability.

“This isn’t a question of if but when,” the mayor said, confirming his support for the indoor field house.

In the most recent iteration of the Recreation Strategy, an indoor field house was highlighted as as top priority for the community’s next facility.

As of Friday, Nov. 17, there were no cuts or additions proposed for Budget 2024. The Capital Budget, along with community partners such as the Strathcona County Library and the Heartland Housing Foundation, was presented on Wednesday, Nov. 22, past press deadline. Members of the public, both residents and businesses, also had a chance to speak with council about Budget 2024 during a public hearing on Wednesday evening.

Budget deliberations will continue on Nov. 27 and 29 and Dec. 4.

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