Town council agreed last week to pay $637,000 so a full-size gymnasium can be built at W.A. Day school.
Council approved a request June 23 from a group of parents who committed to repay $250,000 over four years.
Council heard presentations from Fort Macleod Community Initiative Team member James Coast, W.A. Day school principal Richard Feller, F.P. Walshe school athletic director Craig Patton and Family and Community Support Services co-ordinator Angie O’Connor.
“The opportunity that is in front of us now doesn’t come along very often,” Coast said.
The province is modernizing W.A. Day and F.P. Walshe schools at a cost of about $18-million.
The government will fund a 430 sq. ft. gymnasium at W.A. Day school, which will suit the needs of the Kindergarten to Grade 5 students.
The community initiative team is proposing instead to have a 550 sq. ft. gym at W.A. Day school to provide Fort Macleod with more opportunities.
Feller has been principal of G.R. Davis school — which will close when the other two schools are modernized — and next year becomes principal of Kindergarten to Grade 5 students.
Feller stressed to council the importance of good schools to the growth of a community.
Feller said strong schools not only attract families to town, the positive experience that is provided helps students form a strong bond that encourages them to raise their own families in the community.
“It is our belief that as we connect our students to their community, they are more likely to appreciate what it has,” Feller said.
Patton explained to council that Fort Macleod has long been challenged by a shortage of gymnasium time.
With the present W.A. Day and G.R. Davis gyms too small for junior and senior high school and adult sports, time in the F.P. Walshe gym is at a premium.
The present gymnasium situation has cost Fort Macleod opportunities over the year that would provide the town with an economic boost, such as hosting provincial volleyball or basketball tournaments.
“We just don’t have the infrastructure to compete with bids that come from other towns,” Patton said. “We just don’t have it.”
Patton in his 27-year career as athletic director and coach at F.P. Walshe has seen towns smaller than Fort Macleod host provincials because they have the facilities.
Patton said more programming for adults — such as basketball and badminton — could be added with two full-size gyms.
“This an opportunity we can’t let go,” Patton said.
O’Connor said FCSS is interested in building a healthy community, and that two full-size gyms would be part of that.
The gyms would accommodate additional programming that would combat obesity in children and adults.
O’Connor also stressed the importance of Fort Macleod having strong sports teams in which the town takes great pride as part of a healthy community.
Coast told council Livingstone Range School Board turned down the community initiative team’s request for funding for the gym.
Since the modernization projects start immediately after the school term ends, the school board set a deadline of June 25 to have the money in place.
That short timeframe led MD of Willow Creek council to turn down the community initiative team’s request for funding.
Coast apologized to town council for the short deadline.
“The advancement of this project is entirely in your hands,” Coast said.
Coast said the community initiative team is inspired by the work of the Fort Macleod Playground Committee in raising money, and is confident it can do the same.
“That is what we truly feel we can raise in that amount of time,” Coast said of raising $250,000 over four years.
Council discussed the request later in the meeting.
“I think we can definitely help them with funding,” Coun. Brent Feyter said.
Coun. Gord Wolstenholme noted the previous council helped fund the arena lobby renovation, and there is still $80,000 to $100,000 that project committee has not paid back.
“I think these people are very serious about raising $250,000,” Wolstenholme said of the community initiative team. “I just want you to know that.”
Council approved Feyter’s motion to fund the gymnasium project with the committee to repay $250,000.