Mayor’s corner: Reasoning behind park closures

Tyler Warman
Mayor of Slave Lake

Things in politics have been reasonably quiet this summer.

That was until Thursday, and we announced the removal of some playgrounds, and things heated up pretty quickly. My columns are not meant to convince people we are making the right decisions, but instead share the information we have to help people understand how we made them.

So if you want to know how we came up with a crazy idea to close two playgrounds, please continue reading.

In 2016 we hired a consultant to work on a 10-year recreation master plan. This included assessing our inventory, looking at service levels, programming, long term vision, etc. We got public feedback, and late in 2016 a couple hundred pages of information was presented to council.

One component, of the Recreation Master Plan, was the assessment of our nine parks, which highlighted some priorities and future anticipated costs. What was identified was over $1.2-million needed to maintain our parks. (I want to stress this number does not include enhancements to any of those parks, or to the MRC, pool, ball diamonds or walking trails.) Just to maintain the nine parks in Slave Lake.

The top two priority parks were Spruce Park (by the spillway in Southeast) and Maple Crescent on 8th St. in Southeast. It was recommended we invest $125,000 into those two parks to improve condition and accessibility.

When looking at recreation as whole, it’s a money-loser. We have hundreds of thousands of dollars expected in repairs coming to the pool in the coming years; we have been asked by the public to do an expansion of the skateboard park at $450-600K, and we have been asked for an expansion of the Lions Club splash park at Schurter Park.

These aren’t the only requests we get to increase funding for recreational areas in Slave Lake. User groups have asked for increased funding for ball diamonds and better surfacing at a number of our other playgrounds.

What does that all mean? Our needs and wants greatly exceed our bank account. Another factor has been our negotiations with the MD, who contribute towards the cost of recreation. In our negotiations, we committed to finding cost savings that benefit all taxpayers and users. Council’s focus in years past has been to prioritize quadrant parks over pocket parks. Investment in Hilda Eben, Southwest quadrant park and Schurter park have more of an impact on a greater number of residents so give us better bang for our buck.

Over the past few years we have added surfacing and lighting in the Southwest park, re-did the surfacing at Hilda Eben, painted tennis courts, added trees, added paved trails in SE around ball diamonds, spruced up Poplar Grove park in the Northwest, added equipment for people with disabilities at Lions Club Schurter park, benches, tables, and even built a new park in the Southwest to encourage the growth of a new subdivision in that area.

This is not to say we don’t still spend money on pocket parks. A few years ago we invested close to $60,000 in partnership with the Kinettes to enhance the Kinettes park on 12 Street Southeast. A park we realize is only 275m from Maple Crescent that we are removing. Spruce Park on the other hand has equipment that is 20-30 years old. To be honest we are not 100 per cent sure, because our records don’t go back far enough, and neither does the knowledge of the people that work here.

So do we stop investing in parks all together? Absolutely not. Last year we invested almost $175,000 in playgrounds. This year we will invest over $200,000 again with some further enhancements to the Southwest quadrant park, much of it funded by photo radar funds. In fact since these parks were originally built decades ago, we have added walking trails, skateboard parks, outdoor rinks, indoor playgrounds, water slides, splash parks, additional playgrounds, new ball diamonds, field houses, day cares and performing arts theatres.

Often I get told by residents that the town needs to be run like a business, and when I got elected eight years ago, I thought the same thing. Truth be told, if we ran it like a business, we wouldn’t have any recreation facilities as they are huge money losers for us, costing us close to $1.5 million annually. Instead I now recognize we need to run the town like you run a family.

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