Maria Hetze and Elsa Pederson take a look at concept plans Nov. 29 during an open house for the proposed learning centre/new town hall where the old hospital is. The plan is to demolish the building and put the proposed building in its place.

Residents show interest in proposed learning centre

Project information night draws a crowd, many questions placed on the table

There was strong interest from residents on what the proposed learning centre/new town hall could look like during an open house last week.

Held Nov. 29 at the Kinsmen Community Centre, residents attended to see how the new space could look considering it is expected to be where the old hospital sits.

The proposal sees the development of a civic building that would include spaces for a new town hall, post-secondary learning for Campus Alberta Central (CAC, which is part of Red Deer and Olds Colleges) and new space for the Ponoka Jubilee Library.

Landrex is the developer for the project, which would see the town enter into a 30-to 35-year lease with the company. As of this writing the cost remains unclear as the town is still in lease negotiations with Landrex.

Among the representatives at the meeting was Garry Wetsch, corporate counsel for Landrex and Joel Ward, president and CEO of Red Deer College (RDC) who is also co-chair for CAC. Town councillors and Mayor Rick Bonnett, as well as CAO Albert Flootman were there to answer questions while there were also representatives from CAC and the library.

Wetsch feels the project will bring long-term benefits to Ponoka by bringing a learning space to the five-acre site. “I think libraries today are growing in popularity.”

One part of the project is to eventually develop living and office spaces on the property that flow aesthetically with the town hall design. “We know we’re going to create property taxes by the rest of the development. We know we’re going to create economic activity,” explained Wetsch.

He suggests residents and administration will be able to make the final choice if they feel the project is worth the lease.

Post-secondary in Ponoka

For CAC, Ward feels council is taking a progressive role in getting the ball rolling on the project.

When asked about what will happen if the project doesn’t move forward, Ward replied that there may be other opportunities for Ponoka but not in the same sense as with a new learning centre.

“When you want to build a community, having access to post-secondary education is a major milestone and a major achievement,” said Ward.

He added that besides the economic potential there are also cultural and social benefits to consider. “Progress costs money and it’s an investment in the future.”

He suggests this will bring retention of residents and youths looking to further their education and says this project will be a flagship for other CAC projects. “How critical is it to ensure that everyone has the same opportunity to access (education).”

Understanding the development

As the Town of Ponoka is the development authority and this project could benefit the town, there is some need to clarify how the process works.

CAO Albert Flootman said the goal is to be transparent from the start. Negotiations with the CAO; Sandra Lund, the director of corporate services for the Town of Ponoka and Landrex will be separate from Tim Schmidt, the director of development for the Town of Ponoka. “We are being careful not to fetter Tim Schmidt’s authority as the development authority,” said Flootman.

“He’s having separate conversations with the developer,” Flootman added.

Zoning changes

The site has three different zones and is somewhat unique, which has created a need for Landrex to apply to amend the town’s land use bylaw.

As it sits, the zoning is for institutional, medium density (R4) and duplex or row houses (R2). Landrex is requesting the bylaw be amended to a direct control zone. This requires three readings and a public open house but is expected to clarify the development as there is nothing like this in the town’s current land use bylaw.

Potential financial spin-off

With the proposal seeing a new space for the library, Flootman said that the lease cost will have to be backed by the town.

Currently the library building is owned by the town with the library using the space. Flootman suggests there will need to be some clarity showing how the cost for the space is being covered.

The proposed residential and office spaces are estimated at generating $75,000 to $100,000 in property taxes, said Flootman.

Bonnett said by leasing the space it will help the town when it comes to borrowing as there is a limit to how much can actually be borrowed for capital projects. Considering there is a need for a new RCMP detachment and plans for developing the recreation complex in place, Bonnett feels leasing will allow for future borrowing. He added that there are no more grants available for municipal buidings.

To reiterate, the plan is to demolish the old hospital building to make way for the new project.

Ponoka News editor Jeffrey Heyden-Kaye is a member of the Ponoka Jubilee Library board of directors.