Gatineau presents arena project update
On May 4, Gatineau’s Service des loisirs, sports, et développement des communautés presented to municipal council an update on the long-awaited multi-rink sports complex in the city’s west end. The presentation provided background on the project’s failed call for tendering, and suggested potential development options that included possibilities of combining various sports installations inside the new complex - like a gymnastics facility.
In the works for several years, the complex is planned to be built on an empty lot located at 275 boulevard du Plateau, next to the Canadian Tire. The project is part of the city’s program dedicated to overhauling and maintaining local rinks, Plan de maintien actif des arenas. Acknowledging that the project is paramount for Aylmer and surrounding areas, President of Gatineau’s Executive committee and Hull-Wright district councillor, Cédric Tessier said it was imperative for the city to address the matter publicly and find solutions to move it forward.
Interim director of Gatineau’s Service des loisirs, sports, et développement des communautés, Geneviève D’Amours said the city launched a call for tendering, in December 2019, to find a contractor to build a privately-owned and operated three-rink sports complex in the west for which the city would rent a number of ice-time hours annually. The offer expired in July 2020, with the city receiving no submissions – after the city launched a call for interest for the project in December 2017 that expired in January 2018. So, the city restructured the offer based on feedback from entrepreneurs who expressed interest. The initial deadline was in March 2020, before entrepreneurs requested it to be pushed to April. The city then pushed the deadline to July due to restrictions imposed by Covid-19. D’Amours said the pandemic made it difficult to make progress last year, adding the only 10 enterprises showed interest in the offer.
Six of those enterprises are based in the National-Capital region. Four are from outside the Outaouais. D’Amours attributed the lack of offers to construction-related insecurities due to Covid-19, uncertainty about the future, and a labour shortage. She also pointed to the higher-than-expected cost to build the recently-erected La Cité sports complex in the east the new home of the Gatineau Olympiques, as a potential factor in making developers hesitant about taking on a similar project.
D’Amours said the Executive committee mandated the city’s administration to evaluate development options for a municipally-run complex, and the need for sports and leisures infrastructure in the west to maximize the services the new complex can offer. Suggesting four potential scenarios, she presented the possibility of either building a three-ice complex, a three-ice facility merged with an additional sports installation – such as a palestra, a track, or a skatepark – or a four-ice arena featuring another sports installation while changing one of Aylmer’s current rink’s purpose.
She also proposed finding a different location for a palestra, if the site for the sports complex can’t accommodate it, and to support UniGym in building it.
The city will evaluate the scenarios based west Gatineau’s demographic picture, its diversity of local sports, leisures, and community infrastructure, results from last fall’s public consultation on the matter, and the availability and capacity of local properties conforming to the municipal urban plan. The city will also do a financial study to determine the project’s estimated cost. The analysis will focus on how the new facility should be managed (municipally, privately or both), the estimated cost of each scenario, and potential financing solutions. The file should be brought back to the Executive committee in June for a progress report.
Currently, Gatineau boasts 276,000-plus residents, with approximately 143,000 in the east, and 133,000 in the west. By 2031, the city believes its population will rise to 312,000-plus, with more than 157,000 in the west, and around 155,000 in the east. Around 60 per cent of Gatineau’s expected population growth in the next 10 years will be in Aylmer, D’Amours said, estimating more than 20,700 new residents in the sector. She added that 53 per cent of west Gatineau’s population is settled in three urban villages - Des Explorateurs (27,920 residents), the Plateau (21,025 residents), and Mont-Bleu (21,025 residents).
Aylmer’s population is relatively young, with more than 17,000 people aged 17 and lunder – compared to around 12,000 in Hull, D’Amours said. All of west Gatineau has a little more than 17,000 people aged 65 and up, with around 6,700 in Aylmer.
For Hull, 67 per cent of people (45,700 residents) are aged between 18 and 64. In Aylmer 63 per cent of people (40,600 residents) are in that age group. She added that one of five Gatineau residents will be 65 and up, in 2031.
--Current state of local infrastructure
D’Amours said Aylmer’s athletic and leisure infrastructure inventory includes two indoor skating rinks (Frank-Robinson and Isabelle-et-Paul-Duschesnay), one indoor swimming facility, two synthetic soccer and football fields, and the Allen Park baseball field. The sector also includes eight community centres, Parc Central in the Plateau, Parc des Cèdres with the marina and the new Robert-Middlemiss Pavillion, and the Boucher Forest, D’Amours said.
Presenting results from a public consultation on Gatineau’s sports and leisure infrastructure needs held last fall, D’Amours said residents called for more community centres in Aylmer and emphasized the need for a new indoor multi-sports complex and a gymnastics facility in the sector. She added that participants said local sports and leisure services for seniors are lacking - notably the number of tennis and pickleball courts – and that Gatineau’s current installations aren’t able to accommodate its booming population’s needs. Participants also request enhanced services for skatepark users, including at Parc Central where the installations are deemed adequate in quality but subject to overcrowding. Older skateboard infrastructure is in dire need attention. The consultation also showed public interest in developing a BMX track at Parc Central to better accommodate its diversity of users, and for year-round skateboarding facilities. Participants also expressed desire for indoor synthetic soccer fields in the west, and that athletic and leisure infrastructure in local schools also needs a general overhaul.
Pointing to a lack of services for racket sports, D’Amours said there are currently no pickleball courts in Aylmer, and an important need for additional, perhaps indoor, tennis infrastructure. Along with the sports complex, D’Amours said the city needs to develop two baseball fields (like at Allen Park), two natural soccer fields for 11 on 11 play, four free-to-play tennis courts, a cycling track, an indoor track-and-field facility, an indoor skatepark, a palestra, an indoor swimming pool, an outdoor swimming pool, and three community centres and a multisport centre for seniors to accommodate Aylmer’s future population’s sports and leisure needs.
Glad to see the city consider population growth predictions in developing more sports and leisure infrastructure, Aylmer district councillor Audrey Bureau, said it should more adequately respond to people’s needs than only building additional hockey facilities.
Stating that Aylmer is in severe need of more skating rinks, Bureau believes building a three-ice project would not be sufficient for future needs – adding that at least four ice surfaces are needed. She added that the city needs to improve Aylmer’s aquatic installations. Plateau district councillor Maude Marquis-Bissonnette also said the city should build four rinks instead of three with additional sports installations. Emphasizing a crying need for more sports and leisure infrastructure in the west, she also pointed to the need for an outdoor pool in her district.
D’Amours responded that an analysis focusing on the population’s aquatic infrastructure should be unveiled during the Plan directeur d’infrastructures sportives, récréatives, et communautaires’ presentation in the coming months.
Lucerne district councillor Gilles Chagnon suggested that a property next to the Paul Pelletier Aquatic Centre could be ideal for a pickleball facility. Chagnon also said the first scenario, building a three-rink project without additional sports installations - should be out of the question. Emphasizing that the project urgently needs to move forward – that it should already have been built by now - Chagnon said he expects the progress report in June to include a management plan, its sourcing strategy, cost analysis for each scenario, and financing strategies. D’Amours responded that the city will work hard to make that happen, but with no guarantees.