By Charlie Pinkerton
As the wound of Ottawa’s failed 2021 Canada Games proposal turns to a scar, the City and its resident-sports organizations move forward with trying to reconcile one of the nation’s capital’s shortcomings – its aging and outdated sports facilities – that the failed bid exposed.
Leading the way from the City of Ottawa is Sports Commissioner Mathieu Fleury. His role was created during Mayor Jim Watson’s previous tenure with the purpose of bringing high-profile, top-level sporting events to Ottawa. While that’s still a crucial aspect of Fleury’s mandate, he’s also been tasked with assessing and planning a future for Ottawa’s sports facilities.
Fleury told the Sportspage in June that the City is currently reviewing facility standards – the second phase in a four-phase plan for development.
It’s already reviewed development charges, which are fees land developers are charged that go towards infrastructure funding.
The City’s next phase will look at what sports facilities are out of date, what needs to be rebuilt or is better off sold, before planning begins for the next two decades of facility upgrades.
Fleury, who represents the Rideau-Vanier Ward, says he thinks inner-city buildings are most in need of updates.
“We’re the oldest part of our city. I’m glad when I see infrastructure like Francois Dupuis (Recreation Centre), like Minto (Field), like Richcraft (Sensplex), but those are all in newer suburban communities,” Fleury said.
“The pain-point is in the core, where the standards of the existing facilities is very poor, where the age of the facilities are very old; a lot of them are centennial rinks or centennial facilities, where we continue to see a growth in population but we don’t see new public sports amenities.”
Working closely with Fleury is his advisory group, which includes representatives from Ottawa Tourism and the Ottawa Sport Council (OSC).
With help from OSC, the City of Ottawa hosted in-person workshops during the second week of June where city staff collected comments from residents about what about the positives and negatives of Ottawa’s recreational facilities. The City is continuing these consultations online in July.
Fleury says local clubs can help the City by polling their members before reporting their thoughts to OSC’s executive director Marci Morris.
The athletic directors of Carleton University, the University of Ottawa and Algonquin College are also members of Fleury’s advisory group.
Of the post-secondary institutions, Fleury says Carleton has done the best job at keeping its sports amenities up to date. The sports commissioner says his own alma-mater, uOttawa, needs to be “up next.”
In 2015, uOttawa published what it called its “Campus Master Plan,” to guide the future development of its spaces and buildings. The plan says that the university had only 50 per cent of the recreational space required to meet the Council of Ontario Universities standard.
“uOttawa’s existing athletic facilities are not sufficient to address current athletics needs,” the report reads.
The plan notes the university needs to add more exercise rooms, two more triple gymnasiums, a new fieldhouse with a track and a new 50-metre swimming pool.
Michel Guilbeault, uOttawa’s associate vice president of student services, who is responsible for the development of future athletic facilities, told the Sportspage in June he couldn’t share information about any projects’ timelines.
“There’s still some detailed internal steps for us to be taken here at uOttawa, but definitely we see the need for the development of additional sporting and recreational facilities to serve our community,” Guilbeault said, adding that the university’s planning still uses the 2015 master plan as a guiding document.
Algonquin is planning on opening a new $50 million, 100,000 square foot multi-sport athletics recreation complex in August 2021. The latest publicly available plans show it’ll include a new varsity gymnasium, another basketball court, a volleyball court, an indoor track, a climbing wall, bowling lanes, and a fitness gym.
There are also other major non-university or college facilities being planned in Ottawa.
The next evolution of the RA Centre stands to be the biggest (and at least most expensive) development coming in the national capital region.
RA plans to build a 200,000 square foot sport and rehabilitation centre in front of the RA Centre. Current designs have the building including a two-court gymnasium, a 200-metre track, a 15,000 square foot conditioning room and three pools. The facility will also integrate on-site health care in ways never before seen in Canada.
“Long-term athlete development and health care integration are two really key pieces,” RA CEO Tosha Rhodenizer told the Ottawa Sportspage. “It is our intention to redefine the manner in which all of these services are provided in the community.”
Rhodenizer says her organization is hoping the $120 million project will have 60 per cent of its funding covered by various levels of governments. RA’s project is still at least two to three years away from beginning construction.
The recently completed House of Sport has been a “resounding success,” according to Rhodenizer. The cooperative workspace is nearly full, housing 40 sports organization, including around 25 of the country’s national sports organizations.
National Aquatic Complex
Peter Lawrence, a long-time fixture of Ottawa’s water polo community, is spearheading an effort to build a large water sports facility in the city. He tentatively refers to it as the “National Aquatic Complex.”
Lawrence, who says he helped the city with its consultations about aquatics facilities in the 1960s, says the National Capital Commission (NCC) has been intrigued by the idea of the National Aquatic Complex. Lawrence says that a location the size of 14 acres would be necessary to build what he imagines as a facility featuring two 50-metre, 10 lane pools as well as a FINA-compliant dive tank. One location of interest to him is LeBreton Flats, which the NCC started new consultations on the development of in mid-June.
Several developers of the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre have shown enough interest in the National Aquatic Complex project to put together a proposal about how to move the project forward, according to Lawrence.
“There’s nothing set in concrete, but there’s enthusiasm,” Lawrence said.
Before getting excited about the potential projects, Ottawa’s residents should keep in mind the recent history of some promised major developments.
Abilities Centre Ottawa was pitched as a fully-accessible, multi-use facility featuring three full-sized basketball courts at LeBreton Flats. The future of its development seems bleak after plans between the NCC and RendezVous LeBreton crumbled over the last year.
Fortitude, the $20 million Orleans facility that its developers have pushed as a potential home to international-level competitions, also shows no signs of being any closer to construction than it was more than a year ago.
Some other, smaller athletic spaces have fallen through recently as well. The short-lived Sports Training Academy of Industrial Park recently closed. The Kanata Baseball Association also shut the doors of its “Kanata Cubhouse” in April.
However, there are some smaller projects have shown positive progress lately.
The dome at École secondaire catholique Paul-Desmarais is planning to open in the fall. In February, a planned future dome at Millennium Park entered the request for proposal stage.
The Ottawa Tennis and Lawn Bowling Club (OTLBC) recently renovated 14 of its 18 clay tennis courts and added a new irrigation system. It’s also adding new lights to its courts, which the club’s executive director Maria Pierre-Noel says will be completed by the fall.
The OTLBC is also planning on restoring its century-old clubhouse. It’s raised more than $300,000 in donations for that purpose so far. Pierre-Noel says the project is expected to cost $2.5 million in total. OTLBC has recently applied for a $500,000 legacy fund from Heritage Canada. Pierre-Noel says if the club receives the funding that it would likely encourage other potential donors to push its funding beyond $1,000,000, which it needs to begin the first stages of the restoration project.
The Nepean Nighthawks Field Hockey Association is also optimistic about the development of a field hockey-specific field in Ottawa. It’s proposal is currently progressing through the City’s necessary approvals. Sandeep Chopra, who is a director with the club, says a field would allow field hockey to run programs that simply aren’t possible without a sport-specific facility.
“It would finally embed us into the community,” Chopra said.
With files from Dan Plouffe