Cochrane town council has agreed to provide a letter of support for the scaled-down $2.4 million artificial turf project at the tri-school site and the new town council will decide if it will provide the $600,000 sought.
A lengthy discussion over the original wording of the motion saw it watered down to a letter of support from a letter of commitment. Many were concerned the wording implied the town would guarantee a $600,000 contribution when it will be the new town council deciding during its 2022 budget deliberations. Others believed it would mean the same thing either way.
Tom Knitter, president of the Cochrane Track and Field Association and Cochrane High Schools co-athletic director, pressured town council into making a decision at their final meeting before the fall election. He said waiting until the new council takes office could mean starting the discussion all over again.
He said the $1.2 million donor would walk away from the project if a decision wasn't reached last night.
While some councillors questioned if that would be the case, they also saw merit in moving forward with a project that would enhance the community far greater than the town's $600,000 investment.
Councillor Patrick Wilson had no difficulty with using either the word "commitment" or "support" in the letter.
"Whenever there's an opportunity to put a 25 cent dollar community project on the board that has no life cycling obligations is pretty slamdunk for me," said Councillor Patrick Wilson.
Known recreation advocate Councillor Tara McFadden had difficulty with using the word "commitment" in the same letter as saying funding would be considered. She said it could be misinterpreted.
She also believed further public engagement is required.
"From a public engagement lens, I understand the group has reached out to the neighborhood, but for a lot of people, this meeting will be the next time they're publically aware of it again. So I think from a public engagement standpoint, the public needs time to think of it in this context."
She also believes the contribution's impact upon property taxes and other future town recreational projects, like the Horse Creek Sports Park, need to be taken into consideration.
Currently, the first phase of the Horse Creek park is believed to be at least three years away.
"We've become aware of this Horse Creek project, and through that, we understand there's a community need for these facilities," said Knitter. "We believe that we are an excellent segway to the Horse Creek project because we can meet some of the needs for this project within one year."
The artificial turf project has changed drastically since the society first came before the council in May. At the time, it was envisioned to be a $4.2 million turf with an oval running track, and have the capacity to host large special events.
Further public engagement with residents in the Cochrane Heights neighbourhood determined there was a distaste for that size of development. It was scaled back to a $2.4 million artificial turf with lighting and extensive bleachers for popular sporting events, like football.
Knitter told the council that 1,000 people attended last Friday night's football game between the Cobras and Bobcats at the SLS Legacy Sports Field at Bow Valley High School and that there is a proven appetite for the facility.
The society is seeking $600,000 from both the town and Rocky View County towards the project. They say they have an agreement in principle with Rocky View Schools to maintain and operate the facility.
Should the RVS Board of Trustees give final approval, it would operate under a similar agreement in place for the SLS Legacy Sports Field at Bow Valley High School. The turf would be exclusively used during school hours for student activities, and public bookings would be accepted for evenings and weekends.
It is believed receiving a letter of support from the town will help the society in securing additional funding for the project.