Library, zoo, sports groups and a ‘skateboard mom’ give advice

By Jason Markusoff, Calgary Herald

Several hands — and paws — are clamouring for their share of Calgary’s new $42-million annual community facilities fund.

Aldermen won’t likely commit any dollars to any specific organizations Wednesday, but their committee is hearing from would-be recipients from the library and zoo to sports groups and a “skateboard mom” with advice on which projects deserve the funds.

Calgary Public Library’s long-awaited central branch stands to be a key beneficiary of the recently created cache of property-tax dollars. Ald. Brian Pincott told the committee that nearly all e-mails he’s received on the issue are for the library.

Council tried giving the project a kick-start in 2004 with a $40-million pledge, but planning stagnation and other city priorities have stalled progress, save the recent efforts to secure a site.

Ald. Andre Chabot questioned whether council’s push to bring services closer to where people live means the city should shift focus away from the downtown library and towards its satellite branches.

Library CEO Gerry Meek said that the repair plans and expansion plans throughout Calgary won’t be shelved. But the aging main branch was built for a city population of 400,000 and the need for some $50 million in critical repairs on the facility means a replacement can no longer be delayed.

“Whether you live in the suburbs or downtown, the central library supports you,” Meek said.

The city has been evaluating several would-be sites for the new central branch, including the current site and East Village. Sources have suggested a west-end option too: the spot Telus World of Science will vacate for its new location.

The library wouldn’t likely need much money for several years, since extensive design work and likely a fundraising campaign would precede construction.

But with the city’s recent property-tax decision adding $42 million a year devoted for long-deferred infrastructure for recreation, parks, culture and the fire department, city officials have said there’s money to go around, albeit not enough to build everything.

The city has a lengthy priorities list, but council members can help reshape it based on public feedback.

Calgary Zoo makes the “high priority” list with $7.5 million in maintenance over the next decade. But communications director Simon Scott appealed for $10 million in five years for the sort of overdue upgrades that are limiting the zoo’s ability to improve its animal care.

Skateboard parks aren’t on the list at all, but Sharon Whelan told council that her two children and some 40,000 others can’t make do with the downtown Shaw Millennium skate park and little else.

Imagine the outcry if Calgary only had one outdoor golf course, she said. Skateboarders also deserve facilities throughout Calgary, the mother told aldermen.

“They are not hooligans. They’re hard-working athletes,” Whelan said.

Speakers also came out on behalf of tennis and other sports associations, which are similarly inadequate for our rapidly growing city.

While major recreation centres in the southeast and northwest have spent years on Calgary’s to-do list, Cardel Place in north-central is so stressed that martial-arts programs take place in its hallways.

“Quite simply, the community is outgrowing Cardel Place,” manager Sue Scott said.

There was also a plea to not ignore the lower-profile repairs and delayed maintenance of facilities that might not get the ribbon-cutting ceremonies of brand-new projects.

“If we can’t commit to (renewing) and maintaining our community infrastructure, then we probably shouldn’t be building it in the first place,” said Katherine van Kooy, of the Calgary Chamber of Voluntary Organizations.

She said council should focus the fund on community projects. Council will decide later today whether to spend some of the $42 million a year on the city’s own corporate facilities.

jmarkusoff@calgaryherald.com
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