The chair of the Spray Lake Sawmills Recreation Parks Society (SLSRPS) says the vocal public stances of councillors Marni Fedeyko and Tara McFadden smell of political posturing.
Chair Allison Temple says while the two have been relentless in their questioning efficiencies of the centre, neither have contacted the board, nor taken advantage of an open invitation to attend any of their meetings. Only council representative Alex Reed and Mayor Jeff Genung have attended meetings during the current council term.
All financial records are externally audited and available for public review, she says, and there's an annual general meeting open to the public.
"Operating and financial efficiencies are reassessed and scrutinized by the SLSRPS board on a monthly basis," she explains. "To support complete transparency, members of council have a standing invite to attend board meetings and participate in ongoing discussions."
"We welcome additional participation from council members, including councillor Marni Fedeyko and Tara McFadden, who despite their public vocalization about their concerns with regards to our financial efficiencies have yet to ever attend a monthly board meeting."
"We really hate being thrown under the bus for political posturing."
Temple has been a member of the board since 2014 when the major expansion was in the works. She's been part of the journey, and knows the challenges it has posed.
At the time talks began to expand the centre, councillors Tara McFadden and Morgan Nagel were members of council.
She says it was only Nagel who expressed concerned over the numbers presented for its construction and operation. She says the board shared those concerns because they knew it would run at a deficit, something it had not faced in the past with its business model.
Temple explains the expansion started as a $54.3 million project and was reduced to $45 million. The eventual cost $48 million.
"This board feels it should have been closer $52 million with some of the structural deficiencies that we've come across since the expansion opened that we're trying to cover."
"The town said, 'Don't worry board, whatever deficiencies you run into, we'll cover you'. At this stage, we're running into quite a few."
The largest flaw has been small space set aside for a bar and grill in the upper viewing area of the curling centre. That rental space was considered by the town to be a key in generating revenue. The centre has had no success in attracting a vendor, even when offering the incentive of providing kitchen infrastructure.
"We haven't been able to rent the space. It's an awful space and we said so. It's an unusable space, and it sits empty."
She says board members are all volunteers.
"People don't realize that. I've seen comments on social media about being friends of the mayor and golfing buddies and being paid six figures. No, I don't really golf, and I'm definitely not paid anything."
"We have eight people with a wide variety of backgrounds--business owners, developers, accountants, CEOs--on this board that look at these numbers and dissect them every day. We were used to being a user-pay, self-sustaining model before the expansion and we never were very happy with running at a deficit."
"We're entirely Cochrane and Rocky View taxpayers whose really only vested interest is the community, and we're really proud of this first-class facility."
Temple says the centre was making financial strides before the COVID-19 shutdown.
"We were looking so good pre-COVID. We were closing that gap. Our numbers were strong. We were achieving a really aggressive target and then when COVID hit it really threw a curveball at us."
To simply maintain systems of the 325,000 sq. ft., $100-million centre with a skeleton staff during the COVID-19 shutdown cost $700,000.
While opening some areas early than anticipated, there still remains many financial challenges that will continue into 2021.
That's bothersome to the board, she says, especially with the harsh criticism they've been facing from some town councillors.
Patrick Wilson also sided with a motion to deny the funding that would have seen the centre mothballed until at least the New Year.
"Even just to open it in a phased approach with COVID, we're still going to have deficits moving forward. So our fear as a board, and something that we are discussing as whether we even continue, is how much can we close the staff, and how many more obstacles are we going to run into when we require more money in the New Year. This whole ask was only to December."
The criticism has been hard on the board and staff, she says.
"I feel they're being unfairly crucified by these two councillors that are talking about mismanagement and financial inefficiency, and playing to Cochranites heart-strings regarding taxpayers and increasing in costs."
Yet the board believes turning it over to the town would be a mistake.`
"We have a conversation on a regular basis these last few months, should we even continue to try and run this or should we pass it back to the town, knowing that it's not in the best interest of the community, and knowing that it's going to be even more expensive if the town takes it over."
When building the expansion, the town had predicted a $600,000 to $800,000 yearly deficit when it opened.
"In reality, with the expansive space, structural deficiencies and staff requirements, this deficit is closer to $1.2 million yearly," she says.
By a slim 4-3 vote, town council agreed to provide up to $1.5 million to help the centre get through COVID-19, and to reopen when allowed. Councillors Fedeyko and McFadden continued to be vocalize their opposition at the last council meeting.
The centre now been able to reopen its indoor track, fitness centre, and one of its three ice surfaces. It's offering fitness classes in the curling centre and summer programing for youth, all with a carefully thought out COVID-19 safety measures. The Cochrane Arena, also managed by the SLSRPS, was the first to open in early June.