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Hometown Heroes: Planning play for our future

By City of Ottawa Sports Commissioner Mathieu Fleury

Nothing is more important for a sports community than a plan outlined by the City on how our facilities, fields and parks are expanded, modernised and maintained.

This past year, the City of Ottawa launched its Parks and Recreation Facilities Master Plan – a plan that analyses population growth to recreation and park needs. This involved a high level of engagement from myself and our sport community.

Many areas of our City have some of the oldest urban facilities, which are the least modern to promote standard play. Many programs and sports cannot benefit from these urban centres and pools because they do not meet the essential needs to practice and play.

The Parks and Recreation Facilities Master Plan will outline how we play for the next 10 years.

It will consider residential growth but not look too deeply at our ageing and underperforming facilities. The more profound challenges that we face include old and underperforming recreation and sports facilities and inadequate programming levels to support our diverse community needs (for example, youth, older adults, and racialized community members).

The future Recreation Asset Management Plan, to begin in 2024, will offer some limited hope in bringing new opportunities for modern fields of play for residents who live within the urban communities; however, throughout my engagement and review of the Master Plan, I have placed a particular focus on the following six facility types: recreation complexes, community centres, pools, arenas, rectangular fields, and gymnasiums.

It is important to highlight these because they offer the most opportunities for recreation and sports programming. Gymnasiums, for example, can be used for a wider variety of sports and activities than a baseball field can. 

At the Sept. 27 special joint meeting of the Community and Protective Services and Planning Committee, we brought forward four motions to help positively advance the plan.

The first motion considered provisions of recreation complexes – where I looked at the importance of making the downtown core, inner urban and outer urban areas of our city a priority for a list of new recreation complexes.

The second asked that areas of high employment locations, such as downtown or employment hubs, be considered for placement of new recreation to accommodate where people live and work and play adequately.

As well, I highlighted gymnasiums in another motion at committee. 

The Master Plan recommends the addition of 3 new gymnasiums counting gymnasiums that fall under a shared-use agreement. We feel that it is more critical for the City to invest in City-run gymnasiums rather than rely on school board spaces. Having joint-use agreements with school boards also limits the times that facilities are available for use, and remember we represent the oldest part of the city, which also means we have the oldest schools.

City-owned gyms create the opportunity for daytime programming that will greatly benefit seniors and folks who work outside of the traditional 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. hours. With increasing extreme heat days and the need for cooling centres, City-owned gyms will help fulfill this growing need and make our communities more resilient and more prepared for climate impacts.

As a result, we asked that the following be included as a strategy statement under the gymnasium section: The City recommit to prioritizing the development of City-owned and City-run gymnasiums and increasing facility levels as opportunities arise.

I also made a recommendation when it came to arenas – to consider replacing existing ice surfaces again for our urban neighbourhoods. Adding that if decommissioned pads are to be moved to another site, the surplus of space remains a City asset and be considered for other recreation uses for public benefit. We can always do better when it comes to community spaces, and the need for more of these spaces is highlighted in the Master Plan.

While it’s great to upgrade facilities in need, such as single-pad arenas, it would be irresponsible to lose that critical City recreation asset altogether when it can still serve purpose to the community.

Lastly, we brought forward a direction to staff concerning indoor pools. Seeing as all pools are not created equal, we directed the City to review the swimming pools that do not meet its standards, to help decide where the best location would be to fund new aquatic amenities. This was to ensure that staff look at swimming pools with a more critical eye and see that while a swimming pool may exist, its capacity for use and programming does not always meet the standards to achieve even basic levels of sport and leisure access.

The motions were carried, and we must keep the pressure on the City and ensure that the recommendations added are followed, and that much-needed facilities are built in areas of the City where they are most needed.

Parks, recreation and sports facilities are welcomed by all living in Ottawa. They form some of the most enjoyable experiences for all residents to learn, exercise, socialize, perform, and host. These facilities are enjoyed by kids, families, newcomers, seniors – by everyone.

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