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Infrastructure development and renewal is a pressing concern for many recreation departments in times of fiscal restraint. It’s also a challenge for sport clubs. By creating partnerships, both can find ways to build new capacity.
Municipalities are one of the largest investors in sports infrastructure, serving as the primary home for many community sports groups. The other major investor is the education system, allowing community use after its own sports needs are met. Municipally owned and operated indoor and outdoor facilities serving as venues for both training and competition for sport groups include:
- Sport Fields: Municipal playing fields serve as the primary homes of numerous sports groups, including soccer, rugby, football, field hockey, field lacrosse, adult slow pitch, and baseball and softball. Sport groups also use school fields, but tend to home-base at municipal fields, generally of higher quality due to construction and maintenance practices.
- Outdoor Facilities: Many municipalities provide outdoor lacrosse boxes, tennis courts, outdoor tracks (often in partnership with school districts), BMX facilities, and open turf areas for activities such as ultimate Frisbee.
- Ice Arenas: Municipalities are the largest provider of ice surfaces for hockey, figure skating, and short-track speed skating. Dry-floor uses accommodate indoor soccer and lacrosse.
- Pools: Outside of universities and a small number of school districts, most aquatic sport group training occurs at municipal facilities. Users include swim clubs, water polo, synchronized swimming, diving and triathlon.
- Gymnasiums, Field Houses and Indoor Tennis: While schools are the major source of gymnasiums, municipalities are beginning to include them in multi-purpose complexes. They are used for a variety of programs including, sport organization use. Many communities also build larger field houses, allowing for indoor soccer, tennis, and track. Some communities have indoor tennis complexes to complement those in private clubs. Municipal complexes may include rooms suitable for martial arts training, squash courts, and private rehabilitation services.
There are a number of key areas where sport groups can be more fully engaged in facility planning, as well as to make meaningful contributions toward their development and operation.
- Sport groups need to be fully included among stakeholder groups during the master planning processes. While this is generally the case at the early stages of master planning, there also needs to be subsequent follow up with sport groups at the later stages, and especially throughout the design process for confirmed facility projects.
- Many sports groups also make significant capital contributions to projects, either in terms of construction or equipment purchase. This occurs most frequently for sport field user groups who tend to generate the highest level of contributions toward the upkeep and development of the municipal facilities they use. Because some sport field leagues are “home-based” at a site, they are often willing to contribute funding and other supports for upgrades to the fields and related amenities.
- Because of the higher capital costs of indoor facility development, arena and pool user groups will more often contribute to the purchase of specialized equipment where they are the primary benefactors.
- Community level facilities need to consider overall citizen needs as well as those of sport groups. In the case of pools this means provision of leisure pool areas and amenities for families, as well as rectangular lap pools that will need to be shared by swim lessons, lap swimming for fitness, public swims, and sport group uses.
- In the case of facilities used for major games and/or elite athlete training and competition at the national and international levels, the fiscal burden of capital costs need to be shared by senior governments, as well as the participating municipalities.
- Legacy funds from senior governments for ongoing operation also need to be included for major facilities designed for elite use to alleviate burden of local governments.
When it comes to sport fields and ice surfaces, there are minimal conflicts between general public use and sport group uses. For those facilities, the primary use issues are between sports groups.
In the case of quality sport fields and diamonds, some are allocated as a home-base to specific leagues who schedule their own teams. Other fields and diamonds are shared and the issue becomes fair allocation processes between groups. For arenas, there is some evening and weekend demand for public skating, but most times are allocated between sport user groups. Pools are different. There are heavy evening and weekend demands for swim lessons, public swims, and lap swimming for fitness during the same hours desired by aquatic sport groups.
Some principles and practices for fair allocation of facilities to sport groups include:
- Allocation practices are based on “standards of play” principles in terms of the time and space required by each group.
- Allocation policies are transparent and reviewed with the groups.
- Allocation is not done by tradition, but rather on actual requirements of all groups, including the needs of emerging sports.
- Seasonal allocation meetings are held with common users groups to review their requests and try to achieve consensus on sharing available spaces and times.
- As seasons progress, groups are encouraged to be flexible in the reallocation of spaces with other groups when no longer needed, either temporarily or for longer periods.
- User fees and subsidies need to reflect community taxpayer support, and the rationale should be shared with sport organizations.
Both sport and recreation are continually challenged by facility inadequacies. Infrastructure development and renewal is needed to support programming at all levels. The problems of aging and decaying public infrastructure in Canada are well known. However, less attention has been paid to the deficiencies of structures and spaces specific to sport and recreation. At present, there is simply not enough supply of facility space and time in relation to demand, and the facilities which exist are often unsuitable or outmoded in design.
Sport and recreation can work effectively together to lobby for improved and flexible-use facilities. Through combined efforts, they can also generate public awareness and support for sport and recreation in general.