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BC's rec facilities suffer funding shortfall

VANCOUVER - British Columbia's public pools, rinks and recreation centers are overused and under-funded, according to the BC Recreation and Parks Association.

The not-for-profit group released a study at its annual general meeting yesterday that indicates $5.2 billion is needed to upgrade public recreation facilities in B.C., 70 per cent of which are 25 years old or older.

CEO Suzanne Allard Strutt said the figure did not surprise her.

"Investment in recreation infrastructure has been minimal in recent years," she said. "There was a wave in the 1970s, an investment of over $1,000 per person in the province. But unless there is reasonable budget and necessary retrofitting taking place those facilities are reaching the end of their usefulness...all three levels of government need to make that investment."

The association surveyed 180 local governments across the province about existing public recreation amenities, and capital projects slated for construction. It then audited a sample of those assets, and "conservatively" projected what it would cost to build and rehabilitate all public facilities, said Allard Strutt.

Raj Hundal, chair of the Vancouver Park Board, said this city has an advantage because of the Olympics.

The federal, provincial and municipal governments invested heavily in the Olympic and Paralympic centre near Queen Elizabeth Park, which will become a multi-use community centre after the Olympics.

"On the other hand, we do have many structures that are deteriorating," said Hundal. He gave the Mount Pleasant community as one example.

"We don't have many outdoor pools left," said Hundal. "My personal view is that I would like it to remain there...but there are budgetary constraints. Everyone is feeling the pinch."

Both Hundal and Allard Strutt emphasized the importance of affordable, accessible recreation facilities to keep citizens healthy.

Western Economic Diversification Canada recently announced a fund for recreation infrastructure, but the B.C. government had not contributed any money to it.

The province provided $51 million to a rural infrastructure fund in 2006, and some capital funding for public facilities is available through gaming revenue.

Minister of Healthy Living and Sport Mary Polak, could not immediately be reached for comment.

A ministry spokesperson said the province has provided more than $260 million over the past five years in recreation facility upgrades and construction and on hiking and biking trails.

Colleen Kimmett reports for The Tyee

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