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Cold water thrown on Castlegar community complex upgrades

Too much work with too little time to do it might derail application for millions in grants
Commission members listen to the bad news from the architect on Wednesday night. From left to right: Castlegar Mayor Bruno Tassone, Area I Director Andy Davidoff, RDCK General Manager of Community Services Joe Chirico, Area J Director Rick Smith. (Photo: John Boivin)

A last-ditch effort by the Castlegar and District recreation commission to access funds to upgrade the Community Complex hit a major snag Wednesday night.

And it only took a single phone call from the project’s architect to do it.

“We have a tough road ahead obviously,” said commission chair Bergen Price, after the meeting.

“You can only play the hand you’re dealt, and it doesn’t look like we’re dealing with a hand we can win. That’s a little bit disheartening at this point.”

Commissioners had called the unscheduled meeting to hear options on how they could build upgrades to the recreation complex.

RELATED: Give us options for Castlegar Complex upgrades, rec commissioners tell staff

The project was narrowly rejected by voters in a referendum last summer, but a federal-provincial grant announced in the fall could allow much of it to be paid for without burdening taxpayers.

If the project is to go ahead, the rec commission has to get its application in for funding by Jan. 23.

Castlegar and District recreation manager Jim Crockett submitted a report filled with numbers outlining several scenarios, from doing much-needed repair work, to adding a new leisure pool, fitness centre or social hub.

He also broke down the costs to show the impact each different scenario would have on taxpayers.

Commissioners planned to choose from those options next week and direct staff to prepare a grant application to access up to $13 million in funding from the provincial and federal governments to pay for it.

But a phone call from the project’s architect, Paul Fast of HCMA Architecture and Design, brought the proceedings to a grinding halt.

‘Late in the game’

“To be perfectly frank, it’s getting pretty late in the game,” said Fast.

Then he dropped the bombshell.

“The application requires what they call a ‘Class C’ cost estimate,” he told the commissioners. “We’ve heard varying degrees of interpretation, but typically a ‘Cost C’ comes after a schematic design,” he said.

“And you’re not there yet,” he warned. “So you need to gain a further understanding from the ministry as [to] what they’re looking for under that requirement as that is a major component of the application.”

Right now the project has a ‘Class D’ cost estimate, the most general one. Getting a firmer grasp on the numbers would take weeks, and cost tens of thousands of dollars.

And that wan’t all.

“Beyond the cost question, there are specific questions to the environmental costs of the project… things like greenhouse gas emissions, and energy usage,” Fast said, noting the federal government requires this as part of its environmental priorities. “It is difficult to answer those questions without a mechanical engineer at the table.”

‘You do not have a project right now’

The commission is nowhere near that point, and the politicians at the table know it.

“This is not a grant we can just throw together,” RDCK manager of community services Joe Chirico told the board. “You do not have a project right now.”

Chirico said politicians can’t just put a grant application together with bits and pieces of a proposal from the referendum.

“We’ll find out about what the ‘Class C’ is, that’s definitely a ‘go/no-go,’” he said. “But even if you can get away with that, not knowing fully-fleshed out what your project is… what you have to describe in the grant is why this is going to meet the community need, why this is important to the community. And right now, I don’t know how I’m describing that. I don’t know that Jim [Crocket] does. I don’t know that you do.”

Commissioners directed staff to get clarity on what the funding bodies want for cost estimates, and started talking about passing up this application in favour of a possible second grant program — so far unannounced.

The commission should be “getting our homework done for the next intake,” said commssioner Andy Davidoff. “And not submitting a half-baked application, doing what we have to do with our i’s dotted and our t’s crossed, and submit a polished application that stands a chance with what is happening out there.”

The commissioners will meet on Wednesday, Dec. 19, to make a final decision on whether to apply for funding.

Despite their shrinking chances, Bergen Price said he was hoping the commission could find a way out of the quagmire.

“We have to rally the troops, we have to get back together and use the referendum information we have from the past and find a path forward,” he said after the meeting.

“We can’t just throw a half-hearted application at this, which could affect future funding. We want to make sure we do this right if we’re going to do this,” he said.

“And if we’re going to do this at the last minute and we’re not going to do this right, I don’t want to do this. Not as chair.”

Price said he’s especially worried about the future of the proposed new childcare facility at the complex. That project would be funded independent of the main project, but could affect upgrading plans.

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Proposed upgrades at the Castlegar & District Community Complex would include a new entrance. (Photo: architect’s conception)
Time is running out to apply for millions in grants that could cover the cost of upgrades to the Community Complex. (File photo)