Plans to develop the old Ponoka hospital site are moving forward.
The project is coming together for the five-acre site that could see the future of a new town hall and learning centre. The space would include a large area for the Ponoka Jubilee Library and for a Campus Alberta Central (CAC) learning centre.
Showing their support of the project were members of CAC, which includes Red Deer College (RDC) and Olds College. Joel Ward, RDC president and CEO, met with town council Sept. 13 during its regular meeting to show his support of the project.
He said the goal is to bring post-secondary education to Ponoka and with a new education site, there is potential for a brand new learning centre. “Then it will be a showcase actually, for many communities.”
“Whatever is needed. This really is important for central Alberta’s growth.”
The plan is to demolish the old hospital and create modern spaces that meet the needs of all parties involved. With developers Landrex on board, Ward feels the plan will be a positive development in Ponoka.
CAO Albert Flootman told council that the site is big enough to also see some medium-density residential development and possibly a second office building. Preliminary designs show two floors, just over 12,000 sq. ft. each, plus a third level at 6,000 sq. ft.
Proposed for the main floor CAC would see 5,000 sq. ft. with another 7,000 for the library. Flootman said tenant improvements for the town and council space are proposed to be completed by the builder with an approximate cost of $1 million. “We’ve talked about a 30-year lease from the town by the developer.”
“A necessary part of any significant municipal project is public consultation,” added Flootman.
He said open houses will help determine any building concerns from residents. There are also potential tax benefits with the residential and office spaces planned for on another portion of the property. “Overall property tax revenue to the town is estimated at $70,000 to $100,000 per year at build-out.”
Flootman asked council to support an open house on the plan and support the concept plan in principle as planners are ready to move forward with the project.
Coun. Carla Prediger was concerned that supporting the open house without the costing would put the town in an awkward position. She feels it would be a challenge to provide proper details without the money factor. Coun. Tim Falkiner agreed.
Coun. Teri Underhill offered that some councillors have heard some tentative numbers at a planning meeting with Landrex and that some of those details, while not firm, had a general idea of costing.
Council approved both requests with Falkiner and Prediger opposed to holding the public meeting.
In a press release Mayor Rick Bonnett said this new plan will bring some positive opportunities for the town. The site is on the northern edge of the downtown area.
“Having access to post-secondary education in our community could help local residents retool and become better equipped to compete for jobs in these tough economic times.”
Flootman said the town does have to consider that it is also the development authority for the site and that there is some potential for conflict of interest. He says a plan will need to be in place to ensure that does not become an issue. An open house date is yet to be set.
After an in-camera discussion council directed administration to negotiate a lease cost with Landrex in conjunction with CAC and to report back to council for ratification on any negotiated amount.
Ponoka News editor Jeffrey Heyden-Kaye is a member of the Ponoka Jubilee Library board of directors.