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Sports council calls for field house in Bow Valley

“We recognize that there are significant financial challenges on the Town’s budget; however, we do think that collectively the municipalities in the Bow Valley should collaborate on examining the potential to build a field house in the valley."
20201021 OLS Volleyball 0351
Grade 10 student Lei Sinfuego serves the ball during a volleyball practice at Our Lady of the Snows Catholic Academy on Wednesday (Oct. 21). EVAN BUHLER RMO PHOTO

BOW VALLEY –  An analysis to find gaps in the Bow Valley’s sports and recreation services and facilities has covered all the bases.

Completed by Bow Valley True Sport and Recreation Council (BVTSRC), the updated December 2021 analysis came up with 12 key recommendations, including a call for municipalities in the Bow Valley to consider the construction of a field house.

“We recognize that there are significant financial challenges on the Town’s budget; however, we do think that collectively the municipalities in the Bow Valley should collaborate on examining the potential to build a field house in the valley,” said Bill Fisher, BVTSRC’s board chair at a recent Banff council meeting.

“In the interim, our council recommends that the towns of Banff and Canmore examine the feasibility of using the floor space of their ice and curling rinks for other recreational purposes during the spring and summer.”

In Banff, a separate process managed by the Town of Banff is also currently underway to determine how best to use the spaces and ice time vacated by the Banff Hockey Academy at the Fenlands recreation centre.

Alison Gerrits, the Town of Banff’s director of community services, said the municipality is already working on many of the BVTSRC’s recommendations.

“Any time something like this happens, we’re always looking at ways to improve what it is we're doing,” she said.

“I would say we actually are working on many of them and are very keen to further that access and availability for as many residents as possible to engage them in sport and recreation, for sure.”

Another top recommendation in BVTSRC’s report is for municipal officials to work with all school boards in the Bow Valley to provide greater levels of confirmed or guaranteed access to school gymnasiums and other spaces.

Well-equipped facilities and gymnasiums exist at Canadian Rockies Public Schools (CRPS) in the Bow Valley as well as at Our Lady of the Snows Catholic Academy in Canmore and Nakoda School at Stoney Nakoda First Nation.

Fisher said many users were already frustrated with the lack of gymnasium space for hard-court sports such as basketball, volleyball, badminton and pickle-ball pre-COVID-19, but pandemic restrictions only exacerbated that situation.

He said the BVTSRC believes some of the demand for hard-court spaces can be met through existing taxpayer-funded school facilities, but wonders if the existing joint-use agreements could be renegotiated or created where none exist to get better access.

“Clubs and associations often get a lower priority compared to school activities and I can understand that for some periods of time,” said Fisher, noting that groups with reservations can get bumped for school tournaments. “I think further work could be done in this area.”

While there are joint-use agreements with CRPS, Town of Banff officials say there is also a separate agreement in place for use of the Banff Elementary School gymnasium due to the financial contribution the Town of Banff made to that project.

They say the Town takes control of bookings for that facility at 6 p.m., noting a netball group rents the space as one example.

“The Town of Banff is operating drop-in sports programming there as well with various sports. It varies, but there’s pickleball, badminton volleyball, dancing, drop-in yoga,” said Gerrits.

“During COVID-19, obviously those programs were put on hold last year due to our inability to access the schools, but this fall because of that partnership with the school board we were able to get back in there and resume our programming.”

BVTSRC also recommends that municipalities make an effort to provide outdoor pickle-ball courts in their communities where none currently exist over the next two years given the activity is becoming increasingly popular.

There is a municipal indoor court at the Canmore Seniors Centre, with two more completed at the Canmore recreation centre. There is also pickleball available at the Banff Elementary School, but BVTSRC officials say the few existing facilities do not seem adequate based on the feedback they heard.

They say that many communities are now building designated pickleball courts, noting that some of the larger communities are seeing conflicts over access to courts where both tennis and pickleball are played.

“We heard loud and clear from the pickleball community in the Bow Valley that the Bow Valley wasn’t providing adequate facilities – both indoor and outdoor,” said Fisher.

“There aren’t very many outdoor courts. I don’t think there are any outdoor courts in Banff at the moment, although talking to municipal officials, I think there’s plans to address that situation.”

Gerrits said there is a pickleball drop-in program run by the Town of Banff at the Banff Elementary School and research is underway to see if nets can be interchanged at the tennis courts at the recreation grounds to also accommodate pickleball.

“We do have pickleball sets that have been added to the lending library at the library [Library of the Things] you can sign out there,” she said.

The sports and recreation council is also recommending greater collaboration among the Bow Valley municipalities in the operational delivery of programs. Many clubs and associations already acknowledge the need to draw participants from the entire Bow Valley versus one smaller community.

BVTSRC believes there are missed opportunities associated with the allocation of facility space, scheduling, awareness and promotion, registrations and other operational matters.

Fisher said there may also be some value in considering a single Bow Valley sport and recreation organization with municipal responsibilities, similar to Roam transit or the Bow Valley Waste Management Commission.

“This would certainly be useful in demonstrating the cooperative nature of Bow Valley communities and might help reinforce and provide a stronger rationale for the need to upgrade a facility or build a new one that would serve the larger regional community,” he said.

BVTSRC also suggested that clubs and associations consider hosting equipment and gear swaps, especially for families who need some financial assistance, and for Bow Valley municipalities to support an annual sport and recreation summit or fair.

“The summit or fair would be an opportunity for clubs and associations to promote their activities to the residents, conduct equipment swaps, raise their profile,” said Fisher.

BVTSRC, which was formed in 2015 to support and promote sport and recreation services for residents, was successful in getting a provincial grant to kick-start the so-called gap analysis. The Wim and Nancy Pauw Foundation provided additional funding support.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, information was gathered primarily through online surveys and virtual workshops with residents, including sport club directors and administrators.

Next up, the group plans to make a presentation to Canmore council, Improvement District No. 9 and the Municipal District of Bighorn on its report and recommendations.

“We will continue our engagement with indigenous communities, young adults and Bow Valley Immigration Partnership to fill in knowledge gaps identified in this report,” said Fisher.