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Parks and recreation future: ‘you can’t do everything for everyone’

By Sharon Harrison
While a full, detailed report containing recommendations through a multi-phased approach is still a few months away, an outline of the County’s parks and recreation master plan was presented to council Tuesday evening.

In his presentation, Jonathan Hack, a director with consulting firm Sierra Planning and Management, outlined the project overview, provided key findings, where he focused on three areas for strategic directions for indoor and outdoor facilities, programming and service delivery.

“The purpose of it is for high-level short-, medium- and long-term guidance for capital operating decisions as it relates to recreational parks,” said Hack. “It does not get down into the weeds, but is meant to guide decisions you make over that period.

“You can’t do everything for everyone, it’s about asset management of what you have, as much as it is about building new, because you can’t build everything new.”

The culminating report briefly covers indoor facilities, outdoor facilities, parks and trails, and looks at population growth and demographics. Also community centres and arenas, town halls, gymnasiums, aquatic facilities, museum properties, and fields and ball diamonds.

“It is about, as the County changes, it ages, it grows, it’s about setting standards, recognizing the existing standards of what you provide, and how much municipal support there is, and the role of partners, be they the rec. committees, and others in the community that provide sport and leisure services in the various facilities.”

He stressed the idea was not to re-invent the wheel, but to try ensure that going forward “there is clarity in the process, as that is the best way to retain volunteers, and to give tax payers the efficiency they are looking for”.

The report looked at municipal indoor facilities in the County, such as the Crystal Palace, stand-alone town halls, museum properties, and indoor ice facilities.

Municipally-owned active outdoor facilities include skate parks, playgrounds and splash pads, ball diamonds, rectangular fields, boat launches and beaches, multi-use courts, outdoor ice rinks and a horse ring.

Councillor David Harrison noted how the curling club and two good golf clubs were not mentioned in the master plan, likely because they are not owned by the County.

It was noted how the County is changing in terms of population growth, with that growth primarily centred in the two principal areas of Wellington and Picton, where Hack noted the importance of servicing the wider area when it comes to recreation.

“From a master planning perspective for recreation, we obviously need to look beyond those two centres to every community, so we’ve done that, focusing on access to recreation in each of the community’s that make up what is a massive area of the County.”

The report shows Prince Edward County’s permanent population has increased by 1.77 per cent in the 10-year study period 2011 to 2021, to 25,704 (up from 25,258), with new growth happening in Wellington and Picton.

It also noted how the County is growing older.

“As of 2021, the number of older people has now crept up to a third of the population, and that’s not completely atypical at all,” stated Hack, “but the number of people in the 20 to 39 category is also holding its own.”

“Places are growing old, and they are growing young at the same time, and we need to plan for all of those activities,” said Hack.

The percentage of older adults (age 65+) increased to 33 per cent (from 25 per cent) in the 10 year period, with adults (age 40-64) decreasing to 35 per cent (from 40 per cent). Youth (age 10-19) also decreased since 2011 to eight per cent from 11 per cent.

Remaining fairly static was the young adult category (age 20-39) increasing to 17 per cent (from 16 per cent), with children (age 0-9) remaining unchanged at eight per cent.

Hack presented several maps showing certain demographics are focused with typically younger people (under 19 years of age) gravitating to the urban centres of Wellington, Picton, Demorestville and Ameliasburgh.

The age 65+ population was largely distributed in East and West Lake areas, and north and east of Picton.

Hack spoke to primary and also secondary community hubs, but also smaller facilities in more rural areas, which may one day be re-urbanized.

“What we want to do is recognize the importance of every single asset that exists already in terms of recreation.”

In terms of community centres and arenas, he said, “based on what we see at present, there is nothing that is going to come back to council that is going to surprise you in terms of we need a new arena”.

“There is nothing apparent, given the supply of ice around the County as well, there is no requirement,” said Hack, “but having said that, there is a need to certainly protect land for the future expansion (especially as it pertains to Wellington arena).

“The site might be a little tight, but that’s the future location if you were, or have to, twin the facility as well; primarily, it’s an area of investment.”

He suggested council keep an eye on cost recovery for the Wellington arena, which has dropped pre-pandemic to post-pandemic, where he said their recommendation is to get the figure up “because you should be getting better cost recovery”.

The municipality supplies two ice pads. The Prince Edward Community Centre ice pad utilization is 60 per cent, with the Wellington and District Community Centre at 76 per cent.

The report determines the County provides an acceptable level of ice provision, with no additional ice needed, but it did note that the land at Wellington and District Community Centre should be protected for future expansion.

“If you have a younger population in the rural areas, you absolutely need to invest in those areas, you just can’t do it in every single location, so there still has to be the idea of hubs,” Hack said. “Our recommendation is it is not just primary, not just secondary, but you can call it tertiary hubs and there still has to be something in each of these areas, and you hope that by doing that you are going to meet the needs of every single area.”

Regarding town halls, of which there are 10 stand-alone halls, Hack said the key message is “retention of these halls; they all represent an important level of continuity and service, whether it be the smaller Hillier town hall offering coffee mornings for people to gather, right through to the bigger of the facilities.”

The report noted how people want more programming, and the County wants to do more programming of its own.

He said there is a need to think about where to put more investment rather than less, as not every facility can be invested in, particularly if the County intends to get into more direct programming.

Hack also spoke to who has full control of the programming throughout all the municipally-owned halls. “If the municipality wants to do more direct programming, it’s going to have to carve out time it has to be able to use those facilities,” he said.

“There is a role for the County to have a recreation coordinator to work with rec committees to ensure the program offer meets everyone’s requirements.”

There are no municipal gymnasiums in the County, but there are six gyms found within local schools (one in a high school, five in elementary schools), where it was noted the gym at Prince Edward Collegiate Institute is well-used by the community, with elementary school gyms being used much less by the community.

“The recommendation is, if you can have your own gymnasium, that’s the perfect solution,” Hack said. “We saw that during the pandemic, just as people recognize the importance of those kinds of school board facilities, the access was taken away because of the pandemic.”

He said, they heard during the consultation process that people don’t just want to use arenas as there is a real need and a demand for other indoor and outdoor spaces.

The long-term recommendation is to develop a municipal gymnasium to be co-located with other indoor uses, “so not building it by itself in the middle of nowhere, but probably moving it to one of the existing facilities, Picton or Wellington, or even Ameliasburgh”.

The County has no indoor aquatic facilities, but it was stated in the report that the Prince Edward Fitness and Aquatic Centre, a membership-based facility, is “a well used facility, generally in good condition” where he said the plan recommendation for its lifespan is to maintain and support it going forward.

“While the building is not a municipal class A facility, it does service the community and provides access to all members of the community, whether they have a membership or not, and it functions well and costs the municipality $70,000 a year annually for subsidies.”

Hack said the $70,000 is around 10 per cent of what it would cost for a deficit for a full municipal class A aquatic centre upgrading.

It was noted, however, that the consultation process indicated the public would like to investigate the idea of something bigger and better, where Hack said thought should be given through this process to design opportunities, costs, programming, where the next generation of infrastructure could go to include aquatics.

“In terms of the strategic recognition of rectangular fields and ball diamonds, they are all important,” Hack said, noting how these types of facilities cost money to operate and to upgrade.

“Having greater control of the bookings for soccer fields will improve the economics of the fields, which is the way we will frame it, which is cost recovery in some respects,” he said. “That is not an easy one to bring in if there is an assumption of little or no costs associated with those facilities.”

The report notes the County does not have utilization data for soccer fields, which is retained by the users, something described as “not best practice”.

He said school fields are major assets and going forward there needs to be some consideration of how to have more County involvement in very basic planning for these facilities.

There are nine ball diamonds in the County, and three (non-lit) soccer fields.

The plan recommends to maintain all the existing fields over the period, where Hack said to have a “watchful eye over emerging opportunities or requirements as well, as the country is changing, the province is changing and there are going to be other needs, including unstructured, non-competitive, as family gathering spaces, not all about sports fields”.

Councillor Roy Pennell spoke to repurposing parks, specifically referring to the Carrying Place area, noting how the baseball diamond is seldom used.

“We are getting more development in the Carrying Place area, but I find people are not migrating to the park, and I look at other possibilities that have to do with the arts where that land could be utilized and be a benefit County-wide and as well a tourist attraction,” said Pennell.

Hack said there is possibility for public spaces that the municipality isn’t going to sell, to be re-purposed for something broader. “If you don’t need it for the original intent, it starts with understanding the utilization.

“We don’t have good intel on the level of utilization of these fields, so one of the recommendations is measure it – who is using it and if it clearly is not local users, or if it’s in the five per cent range for utilization functional and it costs x dollars to do that, then absolutely what other uses could we put into that?”

When it comes to sports courts, Hack said dedication is probably the way to go as it’s easier to run.

“It takes the municipality out of the picture to enforce any conflicts that arise, but having said that, active management does mean there is a system in place for indicating dedicated time-of-use.”

There are six non-dedicated tennis courts in the County, 16 non-dedicated pickleball courts, and seven basketball courts. Six dedicated pickleball courts are in the planning stages for Delhi Park.

There are various types of active park amenities in the County, such as a splash pad, playgrounds, skateboard parks, beaches and boat launches.

The recommendation is for a second splash pad to be explored for the north of the County.

He also said the 500 metre radius from residential areas to park amenities should be maintained if possible, enabling walkability.

“As these planning applications come in around Picton, it is very important to take a recreation access focus when dealing with the development community, and the municipality is going to be able to use this plan to have those conversations and demarcate where, and what type of amenities should be put in place.”

He said cash in-lieu and dedication of parkland should be used appropriately.

A full master plan report providing detailed recommendations is expected in the next couple of months.

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  1. Irene Harris says:

    thanks for this article . I am looking forward to reading the whole report and will be paying special attention to what it says about Parks and Recreation places and programmes being made accessible. Picton has an accessible playground for children – Bravo!. But do we have accessible parking at beaches and parks? can we have more than one accessible playground? do approaches to shorelines have ramps and handrails for people with mobility issues (like they do in P.E.I.) etc etc. The County needs to be totally accessible by Jan. 1 , 2025 and parks and recreation programs and facilities is a good place to start.
    Irene Harris

  2. Don says:

    I am pleased to see that the County is creating a parks and recreation master plan but there appear to be some glaring weaknesses in the outline presented in CountyLive. For example, there seems to be an emphasis on facilities but important facilities such as libraries, school buildings, theatres, water fronts, churches, and others are not mentioned. Perhaps more important is the absence of any focus on the types of activities in which people wish to participate. While our population is aging, there is no discussion of their interests today compared to a decade ago. Have they not heard of pickle ball? I realize that we are early in a fairly lengthy process but from what I have seen so far, the scope of the plan seems to be old-fashioned and restrictive.

  3. Gilles Miramontes says:

    This line from the report merits repeating: ‘Regarding town halls, of which there are 10 stand-alone halls, Hack said the key message is “retention of these halls; they all represent an important level of continuity and service, whether it be the smaller Hillier town hall offering coffee mornings for people to gather, right through to the bigger of the facilities.” ‘ Hear, hear!

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