Hill Academy still interested in smaller recreation facility 

Officials from school, Sunstone group meet council to address concerns with referendum approaching

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The Hill Academy will open in Pemberton for the 2015-16 school year whether or not the Village of Pemberton builds a new recreation facility, Pemberton council learned this week. But the private school would also be willing to work with a smaller design than the three-court complex first seen last week.

Those were just some of the details that came out of a Committee of the Whole session on Tuesday, May 20, which allowed Pemberton lawmakers a chance to meet face-to-face with officials from The Hill Academy and Sunstone Ridge Developments about their involvement with the project.

"We are coming," said Peter Merrill, CEO of the sport-focused Hill Academy, who flew out from Ontario to attend the meeting. "Do I feel good about it? I feel pumped. I wouldn't be here (if I didn't)... and quite frankly I'm waiting for the gun to fire so we can go out with a very aggressive (student) recruiting plan."

Sunstone representatives Neil Colquhoun, Nyal Wilcox and Cam McIvor were also present for the meeting to address council's concerns on the proposed facility, with an associated referendum now less than a month away.

On June 14, Pemberton constituents will vote to determine if they approve the village borrowing $4.8 million, repayable through taxation, to fund the construction of a new recreation complex on Pemberton Farm Road East. The referendum authorizes the loan only — it is not a vote to approve a specific facility design.

At a special council meeting on May 13, council learned that a three-court complex, plus an outdoor soccer field and site servicing would exceed the village's borrowing power if the referendum passed.

A new report delivered Tuesday indicated that all construction and servicing could be completed on a two-court facility and field for an estimated $4.47 million. Merrill said he would like to see revised designs, but added that The Hill Academy could still utilize a smaller complex.

"If you cut it back by a third, we'll work with you," Merrill told council.

However, council is still concerned by the projected operational budget, particularly in the first years after opening, and the fact that taxpayers would assume all financial risk with the facility without any kind of formal usage agreement in place.

The original business case prepared by Murphy Construction showed operational and debt servicing figures at an approximate $100,000 deficit in the first year. Village staff has been working to compile a new operational budget using more conservative figures, cutting the original usage projections from the business case in half, and reducing facility rental fees by nearly one-third, which will change the numbers. Those figures were not yet available at Tuesday's meeting.

No formal usage agreement was struck Tuesday, but the Sunstone and school delegates seemed open to reaching one.

"We'd have to talk internally, but I think The Hill would be prepared to sign a lease now, based on certain hours," said Wilcox.

If the facility is built, The Hill Academy's usage of the complex is projected to increase significantly, year over year, as it builds towards full capacity of 426 students.

However, if the referendum does not pass, Sunstone would construct a recreation facility on the school site, though it would be "much smaller" and tailored to The Hill Academy's needs as opposed to the community's, said Wilcox. As well, the village would lose the opportunity to have the school as an anchor tenant using low-demand daytime hours.

"To me, that would just be a lost opportunity for the community," said Wilcox. "For us, it would do, it would be satisfactory, but it wouldn't be the facility we could build together."

Meanwhile, village officials will begin outreach to residents this week to give them as much information as possible before the referendum. That includes a series of Coffee with Council sessions in the coming weeks, and a public info session at the Pemberton Community Centre on June 2 from 5 to 8 p.m.

The updated capital costs for a smaller facility, plus the revised operational and debt servicing costs, were expected to be complete by Friday, May 23. Advance voting will be available on June 4.

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