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City of Edmonton rec facilities won't open until at least early July despite province's Friday green

dmontonians will have to wait until at least early July to access city gyms, pools and arenas although the province is permitting facilities to reopen Friday.

Interim city manager Adam Laughlin informed councillors of the decision Thursday afternoon, a day before the city’s 35 recreation facilities can reopen under the Stage 2 of Alberta’s accelerated COVID-19 relaunch strategy. In Calgary, five aquatic and fitness facilities will reopen in the next few days. 

Decisions on what city amenities will reopen and when are expected in the next few weeks, and Laughlin said they will be based on the city’s ability to afford to provide these services, rehire staff and be able to close again quickly if the virus infection rate escalates in Edmonton. Laughlin said the city is targeting early July for reopening of select facilities. About 80 per cent of the city’s recreation branch was laid off at the end of March or redeployed to other positions after the facilities closed March 14.

“Edmontonians should be aware that when they go back to these facilities, they will look and feel different. Not all facilities will reopen and some services will be adjusted,” Laughlin said. “The pandemic has caused deep fiscal impacts and the city continues to assess our reopening decisions against our current realities.”

Some other services, such as the funicular and field bookings for sports leagues, will relaunch Monday but Laughlin warned of the potential for longer grass and weeds to disrupt some events due to reduced maintenance this year. Several residents have voiced displeasure on social media this week about grass not being cut in parks and how it is limiting mobility and potentially increasing the spread of dandelions.

Instead of cutting the grass every week as in past years, the city only has the resources to do so every three weeks with the number of maintenance workers cut in half to 800 this season for cost savings. But the city could not confirm the dollar value of savings expected from the reduced service.

Regular maintenance on the city’s premier sports fields will continue.

Concerns over spending priorities were amplified at Thursday’s meeting, with Coun. Tim Cartmell asking why city dollars were used for an environmental rebate program for electric bikes and electric vehicle chargers while field maintenance is scaled back and outdoor pools and spray parks are slated to remain closed this summer to save money.

The city is expected to dole out $600,000 in rebates under the program that launched last week, which council approved during 2019 budget discussions. These rebates are part of a larger $4.8-million initiative over the next three years that includes rebates for residential solar panels and energy-efficient upgrades in commercial buildings.

“We have money for e-bikes but not for cutting grass or spray pads,” Cartmell said. “I think we need to elevate some of those conversations in the context of tradeoffs we’re making.”

Mayor Don Iveson said he appreciates concerns with the timing of the rebate program, but he stands behind the city’s environmental initiatives as part of the climate emergency declared last August.

“We’ve cut a lot of things, however council has also been quite intentional about not wanting to compromise the city’s strategic plan,” he said. “We did not curtail programs related to supporting a transition to a lower-carbon future. Nothing about the pandemic and nothing about the economic situation has changed the underlying climate imperative, in my estimation.”

Meanwhile, residents will have a chance to address councillors during a virtual public hearing starting Monday on proposals to change policing practices in an effort to address systemic racism.

Individuals interested in speaking can register by emailing .

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