Mayor of Slave Lake
Spring has officially arrived, the sun is shining, residents are taking to the streets, to yard sales, biking along the paths, and enjoying the great outdoors.
This is prime time for any resident to take in outdoor activities.
My family is no different; we have one child doing soccer, and another in baseball. And this time of year it is great to see a lot of our town facilities, including the ball diamonds, and soccer fields. It’s also great to hear from the user groups who are actively using these facilities.
One thing that has become apparent is baseball is thriving and number of players, and teams seem to be up from previous years. With the increase in players and teams, we then begin to see the use at the diamonds and softball up as well.
The increased number and the demand on the facilities has brought up some questions about previous diamonds, commitments made in the past, and whether the Town keeping up on its end of the promises made. To clear all this up, I want to set the record straight.
First off, many years ago the Mouallem family graciously donated a piece of land where Fournier Place now sits. There used to be four slo-pitch diamonds there that in some years were used quite extensively and in other years it was obvious we had more diamonds than was needed.
To be blunt, ball diamonds are expensive. They cost tens of thousands of dollars to build and unfortunately in our climate have limited weeks of use.
Immediately after the fire in 2011 we decided to demolish the ball diamonds, on the property the Mouallem family donated to the town, as it made excellent land for immediate housing. The Town was also able to leverage the Province to pay for it to be permanent housing in this location, as it was needed at the time. The province committed $1 million worth of recovery money towards reconstruction of ball diamonds at Sinclair and Charity Park.
Weeks after the fire demand for housing decreased as people found alternate accommodation and we ended up not needing it for immediate housing needs. We also realized we needed to replace the diamonds that we had removed. Instead of replacing exactly what we had we decided to get input from all ball user groups and met with Slo-pitch, minor baseball and men’s baseball.
We ended up deciding on a design and went out to tender. After a tough tender process and through the help of a local contractor we ended up investing $1.8-million into upgrades at both Sinclair Diamonds and Charity Park. The input from the user groups really guided what was built and for the few years, use in them has been steadily increasing.
The Town always commits to a “level of service” and many of the dedicated users invest time and money into taking them to an even higher degree of quality. This level of service for basic maintenance, grass cutting, materials etc., cost the town annually is about $40,000.
That $40,000 is in comparison to the less than $5,000 we generate in user fees from groups that use the ball diamonds. Again to be honest, this is typical. All of our recreational facilities generate less money than it costs to operate them.
Now fast-forward to this year; demand is higher than it has been in years. Slo-pitch has gone from less than 10 teams after the fire to 20 teams, and having to turn more away. No organization wants to do this and as such everybody is looking for more opportunity to use the fields.
So what’s happening?
In the short term, Slo-pitch has been great at going outside their comfort zone and adding a day of games. Although this is not ideal, we will have to maximize use before looking at adding diamonds. An extra diamond would cost tens of thousands of dollars and we would have to find a spot to put it as we have maximized the use of space at the current site. Council will also look during budget this fall at the possibility of investing some money in one of the diamonds in Charity to make it more multi-use. This will be weighed though like all requests as there are limited funds and a number of priorities.
In the end I am excited to see so many people active in the community. The trails are busy, the beach is busy, and our fields, playgrounds, skateboard parks and tennis courts are used by many. Having more people active is a great problem to have and council and administration look forward to finding creative ways to maximize use of the facilities we have invested in and when those have been exhausted, adding new ones.
We appreciate the patience and flexibility of all user groups as we work through these challenges.