After discussing the prospects, Ponoka town council will be moving forward on the redevelopment project of the former hospital site.
Council spoke extensively about the issue during their meeting on June 28 and approved administration to go ahead with discussions on a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Landrex, the developer of the proposed project. However, it was only on Monday, July 5 that the developer agreed to partner with the town on the MOU.
That document will set out what the town’s involvement will be in the design process for the new Community Learning Centre that would be operated by Campus Alberta Central (CAC) - a joint venture between Red Deer College and Olds College that provides post-secondary learning in 21 different communities. Local construction company Eagle Builders is also interested in becoming partner in the project, offering to coordinate the conceptual design process at its own expense.
Landrex’s proposal would see the new building house both CAC and a new town office. Town administration is presently looking at the feasibility - logistically and financially - of relocating as well as reaching out to other potential partners that may want to become long-term tenants. One of those possibilities is the Ponoka Library Board, who have expressed some interest in the idea.
“We are carefully moving things along in a step-by-step process that includes getting legal advice with each step and specialized financial advice to support Council’s decision-making,” said Albert Flootman, Ponoka’s chief administrative officer.
Part of that process includes considering what, if any, monetary commitment the town may make as well as that any decision to participate will depend on a long-term (25 year or longer) lease commitment from CAC or different significant tenant that ensures the viability of the project.
Currently, the town isn’t required to put any money into the project or decide if it will be involved further until after a period of time - yet to be negotiated - once the building and site design plus the final cost of the project is determined. The town has also maintained that any decision on permits or bylaw amendments or project approvals will remain at council’s discretion and not be impacted by its present involvement.
Mayor Rick Bonnett stated the town is excited at the proposed project and the possible benefits, which include the potential to reinvigorate the north part of downtown, the opportunities to train people close to home and replace a temporary solution to the old town hall that will soon be demolished.
“It offers huge post-secondary education opportunities for residents struggling with unemployment or under-employment during an economic downturn – helping them retool and gain new skills right here. Redeveloping that site would draw more people and services into the downtown area, spurring new economic development,” Bonnett stated in a press release.
“It also potentially provides us with the most affordable, cost-efficient solution for a permanent home. We are currently in temporary quarters in an older building with layout and space constraints that are posing challenges.”
He added the MOU will allow the town to carefully evaluate the proposal before any decisions are made.
Talks on the conceptual design are slated to begin this week with representatives from all parties.