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Financial woes put Riverbend rink renovations on ice

Repairs on the Riverbend Community Association skating rink are no closer to being performed now, than when the association closed the rink two years ago.

The reason behind the delay, said the association, is stalled funding that puts them at 83 per cent of their goal of $450,000.

Riverbend Community Association president Olga Maciejewski said that volunteers from the association have put in hundreds of hours to apply for grants, and have been awarded $372,500 in total towards the rink rehabilitation.

“We were successful, we got the grants awarded, but because of the rules we cannot access the funding and we cannot start the project,” said Riverbend Community Association president Olga Maciejewski.

Currently, the rink is badly in need of repairs, said the association. Weeds grow in cracks in the concrete pad, the foundation has warped, making summer use and icing impossible. A recent fire torched boards next to where the rink meets the Riverbend School playground.

“It’s an eyesore, to say the least,” said Maciejewski.

Multi-season space envisioned

The association has a vision for an updated rink space that is multi-seasonal. Phase one would be to perform demolition on the current rink, and re-pour the concrete slab to remake the rink. Following phases would add new basketball hoops, pickleball markings, and a bike rack that would also serve as a community art piece.

Currently the association has been able to complete a geotechnical survey of the site. The City of Calgary’s Engineering Consulting Program has completed a design and specification for the project. A bid was issued to identify a general contractor.

Maciejewski said she’s worried about the consequences if the money doesn’t come through for the rink project.

“We have to keep applying for grants for, I don’t know, forever,” she said.

Across the city, other community associations have been left in similar situations.

The Beddington Community Association’s former community rink was dismantled in 2015 after the structure had become a danger to the public. The association was unable to raise sufficient funds to replace and repair the boards and rink structure.

A rusted basketball hoop leans towards the ground at the Riverbend Community Association Rink in Calgary on Wednesday, February 23, 2022. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Complex system of grants for community infrastructure

Adding to the complexity of that funding process, $300,000 of the $372,500 raised is via a Calgary Conservation Grant from the City of Calgary. It provides 75 per cent reimbursement of project expenses.

Maciejewski said that they don’t have the kind of cash flow at the association to begin making payments to then be reimbursed by the city.

The association also received a $60,000 Calgary Flames Rink Award grant from the Parks Foundation Calgary. However, the association has not been able to meet the conditions for the grant to begin work.

One of the conditions of the Parks Foundation requires is that grantees deposit 100 percent of the project funds into a foundation project support program bank account. Any awarded grant funding from the Parks Foundation is placed directly into this bank account. It’s then put towards the total project funding cost.

“We will never access this Parks Foundation grant because they require us to give them the whole $400,000. That’s impossible because the $300k out of the $400k is something we will never receive in cash because it’s only reimbursement,” said Maciejewski.

Community fundraising planned

The project support bank account does allow for associations to perform fundraising, and issue charitable tax receipts. Maciejewski said they’ve been trying to navigate the grants. They haven’t yet done any fundraising from Riverbend community members. This is something they plan on doing.

It also ensures that vendors, such as contractors, are paid directly from the Parks Foundation for any project work.

“Parks Foundation Calgary has a transparent system in place to ensure that fundraising and grant dollars are spent responsibly,” said Sheila Taylor, CEO for Parks Foundation Calgary.

“We pride ourselves on supporting community groups and helping them address their challenges to secure new and accessible spaces, facility upgrades and equipment.”

To date, said Taylor, the foundation has been able to successfully provide $15.8 million to community projects through their Amateur Sport Grant Program.

Fire damaged boards at the Riverbend Community Association Rink in Calgary on Wednesday, February 23, 2022. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Next steps towards a new rink

The Parks Foundation said that they would be reaching out to Riverbend soon. They hope to alleviate any concerns they have about funding requirements.

“We are looking forward to continuing to work with the Riverbend Community Association to help address their questions and challenges,” said Taylor.

Maciejewski said that the Riverbend Community Association will continue to apply for more grants.

She hopes the City of Calgary will begin to directly fund community associations for the management of recreation amenities.

“I really, really want to advocate—raise awareness to Calgarians about this very unfair funding model for community associations, and the city using volunteers to manage facilities, and the city not having funding model to support community infrastructure and community associations,” she said.