The Town of Ponoka has entered the first phase in a borrowing bylaw that would eventually see a new town hall and learning centre where the old hospital is located. First reading has passed giving residents a chance to have a say in the process.

The Town of Ponoka has entered the first phase in a borrowing bylaw that would eventually see a new town hall and learning centre where the old hospital is located. First reading has passed giving residents a chance to have a say in the process.

First steps in learning centre for Ponoka move forward

Ponoka town council voted unanimously for first reading of a borrowing bylaw related to the proposed learning centre and town hall.

Town council voted unanimously for first reading of a borrowing bylaw related to the proposed learning centre and town hall.

The decision came Feb. 14 during council’s regular meeting after a lengthy in-camera session.

Located at the old hospital site, the proposal is to demolish the old building to make way for a new learning centre of about 28,000 square feet of floor space (three stories) for what is being called a Community Learning Centre.

The proposal is to enter into a 35-year lease agreement with property owner Thackaray Enterprises and while lease negotiations continue, there is a consensus between the town and Thackaray over maximum costs.

Annual lease payments will not exceed $25 per square foot for the first 10 years where it will be adjusted to the market levels of the day using the Consumer Price Index.

Of that 28,000 square feet the town would then offer to sub lease 7,000 square feet to the Ponoka Jubilee Library. And another 5,000 would be leased to Campus Alberta Central (CAC), which comprises Red Deer College and Olds College bringing post-secondary education in Ponoka.

Potential costs

If the lease price were to cap at $25 per square foot, the cost, minus the CAC space would be $575,000, $175,000 of which would be for the library space.

The proposal is to construct a three storey building with the first floor to be a shared space between the library and CAC, while town administrative offices and council chambers would be housed on the second. According to a Town of Ponoka press release the third floor could be leased to additional tenants.

CAO Albert Flootman told council that the town is not obligated to sign a release but first reading gets the clock started. “And the development approval process is also continuing at this time.”

To ensure the process is done correctly, the town first has to bring a borrowing bylaw for approval. In this case, the Municipal Government Act requires that long-term leases past five years are considered similar to a borrowing.

The town points out in its release that municipal taxes will be levied to make the annual payments and no money will be borrowed, although the town’s finances sit in a relatively stable position. Of the $24 million borrowing limit, $16 million is available.

Flootman states in the release that the actual lease cost and tax levy increase isn’t known but will be shared publicly with residents once determined.

The bylaw can be petitioned and work cannot begin on the project until the bylaw is approved.

Speaking in favour of the centre

Acting deputy Mayor Sandra Lyon said in the release that this proposal could be a catalyst for growth in Ponoka. “While the lease costs for the Community Learning Centre represent a significant investment for the town, it is also expected to provide a favourable return on investment to our community and our residents.”

“Statistics show individuals with post-secondary certificates, diplomas and degrees generally experience lower levels of unemployment and higher rates of pay which can help us build a stronger, more resilient community,” she added.

The Town of Ponoka faces several plans in the works for large capital projects including a desire to expand the Ponoka Culture and Recreation Complex as well as a need to build a new RCMP detachment.

Coun. Tim Falkiner was not in attendance.

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