The City of Brampton hosted two public meetings at the recently purchased Riverstone Golf Club, and from the reaction of the residents who attended, the future community centre is likely to be seen as a welcome addition to the portfolio of recreational facilities that have become a source of pride for the residents of the city.
The City of Brampton agreed to purchase the golf club in December, 2017, after a staff review recommended the purchase of the building and some associated land parcels, to allow its conversion to a recreation centre focused on delivering programs for seniors. The facility is located in the east end of the city, near Queen Street East and McVean Drive.
Approximately two hundred residents attended information sessions held inside the Riverstone club house where they had an opportunity to view portions of the building and see proposed layouts which were revealed to the public for the first time. City staff were on hand to answer questions and provide guided tours.
Some of the tour highlights included the saltwater pool area, the large banquet hall, a fully equipped exercise room, and a set of squash courts on the lower level.
The deal to purchase the golf club saw heavy debate at City Hall last year, with most of the information regarding the plan being kept behind closed doors to protect the privacy of the real estate negotiations. Media coverage and discussions on social media raised concerns as to whether or not the purchase represented good value for the Brampton taxpayer.
But all seemed forgiven as attendees learned about the City’s future plans for the facility, and when given a tour of the building, residents were giving the deal a thumbs up, as evidenced by conversations between residents and staff.
One person answering resident’s questions was Al Meneses, the Commissioner of Community Services for the City of Brampton, the lead on the project to study the acquisition. When asked, he was ready to explain the merits of the purchase.
“It’s a 35,000 square foot facility that is going to provide amenities for the community. We spoke extensively to the residents in regards to the Parks and Recreation Master Plan, and one of the recommendations we got was that we needed an additional seniors’ centre, or seniors-focused centre on the east side.”
The building was purchased for $9 million, with the seller, a developer, also being paid an additional $2.6 million to refurbish and renovate the building to meet the City’s community centre standards, which includes reconfiguring and repurposing a number of rooms, building family change rooms, and ensuring all parts of the facility are wheelchair accessible.
Meneses says that the deal was an opportunity. “It was at the right price. The timeline was great. It was an opportunity-driven purchase where, when we looked at the alternative which was to acquire some land, building a 35,000 square foot facility, and how much it would cost and how long it would take, clearly, what came out was that it was going to cost us about twice as much to build new, and it would take about five to seven years before we actually got the doors open.”
Under the current deal, the facility will open in a year. According to Meneses, “It was a no brainer.”
The purchase also includes the handover of over 60 acres of valley lands, which the City will restore back to natural state at an additional estimated cost of $1 million. The greenspace will remain protected and provides additional recreational space for local residents as well as a continuous cycling and walking path from Brampton’s northwest end down to Lake Ontario.
Back inside, one of the significant features of the facility is the pool area. A saltwater therapeutic pool with a continuous five foot depth is certain to become popular. Once open, it will be the only saltwater pool in the City’s property inventory.
Meneses notes that an important factor in the details of the purchase is that only half a million dollars of actual taxpayer dollars went into the purchase. “The balance of the purchase price, from a funding source perspective, was development charges and cash-in-lieu reserves. So, from a taxpayer perspective, it was half a million of tax dollars, and the rest of it came from reserves that we have that are developer-funded.”
Residents who attended were asking questions and providing additional input, with one expressing gratitude for the City taking over the golf club. “I’m really happy that this building has been saved, and I know that when I come here, I will enjoy using it. We were wondering what was going to happen to it, and I think this plan is going to serve everyone very well.”
When asked about the controversy surrounding the purchase, Meneses explained the drivers involved in the recommendation to purchase the site, and the behind-the-scenes process which lead to the decision.
“From a staff perspective, we don’t get involved in the politics. We are aware of the politics, but as staff, we’re paid to provide the best advice we can to our Council, based on what’s value for money, what’s best for the taxpayers and what’s best for the long-term future of the city and the residents of the city. That’s what we base our recommendations on. Staff was asked to review the option of purchasing this facility, and here is good value for the taxpayer.”
The new recreation centre is expected to open to the public in Spring 2019, after the seller has completed the necessary renovations. While the centre is intended to serve residents of all ages, there will be an emphasis on programming to meet the needs of seniors, with programs that are similar to the Flower City Seniors Recreation Centre located at McLaughlin Road and Queen Street West, with the additional benefit of the existing aquatics and fitness facilities at Riverstone.