On Monday, Airdrie's City Council agreed unanimously to move forward with the advancement of an expanded community-use gymnasium within the planned FrancoSud High School. City documents stipulated that council would need to commit to, 'up to $4 million to the project by end of November 2023.'

The approval, however, will be subject to Council budget approval and would direct the Administration to include this project on the list of options during the 2024 budget deliberations.

The decision comes after a previous June 2023 council meeting in which both city Administration and Conseil scolaire FrancoSud representatives approached Airdrie Council and received approval, on the concept of engaging in discussions, 'on what unmet recreation needs within Airdrie could be addressed by upsizing the school’s capital budget with a potential contribution from the City of Airdrie.'

"Since that point, the school board has secured GGA Architecture to provide design services for the project and is in the early stages of that design. Both school and city administration met in September with GGA to discuss the needs of both parties and potential collaboration options to proceed further," explained Brad Anderson, the Manager, of Genesis Place & Arena.

According to Anderson's presentation to council, within the Alberta education budget, there's allocated funding for six 640 square metre single-court gymnasiums.

"When considering some of the broadest voice needs of residents and which amenities are realistic on this school site, doubling the program size of the gymnasium to roughly 1200 square meters is an attractive community use option," he added. 

City documents also outlined that a double gymnasium, 'presents several advantages for programming over an Alberta Education funded standalone junior/senior high school gymnasium.'

"The Northwest location would be ideal, acting as a satellite campus to Genesis Place, allowing for expanded programming, spontaneous use and rentals at a specification that could also allow for provincial competition use. The facility would provide six indoor pickleball/badminton courts or two full-size volleyball/basketball courts. During prime hours, opportunities offered would cater specifically to Airdrie’s young family demographic such as parent & tot drop-in time, bouncy houses, or family fitness classes," City documents stated.

A Class D estimate last month provided a figure of approximately $3 million for the project.

"This number presents the City of Airdrie’s contribution as the school board is unable to fund anything above their current allocation from Alberta Education which provides for a single gymnasium. To meet the Alberta Education strict timeline for construction, GGA Architecture and Conseil scolaire FrancoSud would require a firm commitment from the City of Airdrie no later than the end of November 2023 that funding would be available, in an amount of up to $4,000,000 towards a double gymnasium, as the project proceeds to concept and detailed design."

However, Councillor Al Jones posted the question of who would own the asset once it has been completed, to which Anderson clarified that the School Board would own it.

"The city would have no ownership stake in that at all. We would enter into some type of funding agreement for use and access to that school. So it'll be a 20-year term, 25-year term, [and a] 30-year term. We will be negotiating over the coming months on what that funding agreement looks like. We know exactly what our contribution to that school is buying, but we would not be on the hook for any lifecycle improvements in the future."

Both Councillor Jones and Councillor Heather Spearman had questions about the 4 million dollar funding, with Councillor Jones underlining that the difference between $3 million and $4 million was quite the gap, while Councillor Spearman asked whether the $4 million would cover a usage agreement. 

"We most likely would have a separate agreement on the usage. Now there's going to be no costs - outside of the what their hard expenditures would be - of us using that gym," Anderson explained. "But there'd be revenue associated with that as well, through drop-in admissions pass holders. This would be something where if you have a Recreation Pass at Genesis place, that would include access to this school as well."

While Councillor Ron Chapman said he was behind the idea, he also expressed frustration, saying that it has taken several years for the province to take the initiative to build the school, while the province in turn gave the municipality a very short window of time to commit to the multi-million dollar funding.

Mayor Brown also queried whether 50 per cent of the funding would translate to 50 per cent of access, noting that high school gymnasiums are often very busy.

"When I was a kid in high school, we played in the gym until 5:30 p.m. At night, there were games... There were tournaments. I'm just thinking if we can't get access to 50 per cent of the time, then why would we be putting up 50 per cent of the money?"

Anderson, however, assured council that there would be more than 50 per cent access.

"When you add up the prime hours of both gymnasiums from 4 p.m. till 10 p.m.; six hours times five nights a week, plus the weekend, which can be opened from 8 a.m. right till 10 p.m., both Saturday and Sundays would be more than 50 per cent."

Airdrie's City council has three budget committee deliberations meetings planned in November - two occurring this week, and another next week. 

The Counseil Scolaire Francosud currently has a K-12 school located in Ravenswood that will transition to a K-8 once the high school is in Reunion completed. 

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