Strathcona County opens community centre


At long last, Strathcona County has the Community Centre that will be a focal point for its community spirit and will enhance the county’s unique identity and Albertan heritage.

The centre reflects the growth of Strathcona County, the fifth largest municipality in Alberta by population (after Calgary, Edmonton, Wood Buffalo and Red Deer). The 2009 government census counted over 87,000 residents in the county, a culmination of both urban and rural populations under one municipality. Strathcona has grown and matured and its new Community Centre provides an inviting place for residents and visitors to gather for culture, learning, services and celebration.

“The idea of creating a downtown hub has been in the works for a number of years,” says Sharon Siga, Director of the Strathcona County Library (located within the centre). Not having a defined central location, Strathcona development broke from the traditional blueprint of a town growing around a downtown centre. Its rural communities were the crux of development for the majority of its long history in Alberta, and just over 50 years ago Sherwood Park started out as a bedroom community to support the industrial sector located on the eastern perimeter of Edmonton. And although there has been no shortage of community spirit and identity, there wasn’t a central downtown location whereby residents could gather, study, put on shows and celebrate.

“A plan was developed to create a community heart and hub,” says Siga. “That’s what this centre is designed to do. Not many communities have a large piece of undeveloped land in its heart, so the vision was to bring a number of community amenities into a downtown core. Strathcona County chose to be the developer on this project and then partnered with Christenson Developments to create something vibrant.”

The Community Centre is located in the sustainable development of what’s called Centre in the Park. It is a multi-use area being developed in Sherwood Park that combines municipal services, local government, condominiums, retail services and inviting public spaces. This area is flanked by two high schools as well as Festival Place—a theatre for the performing arts, an arena complex, a leisure centre with a swimming pool, a large park, and a golf course, connecting to the county’s Heritage Trail system.

Centre opens with a bang

It was with much celebration that community members gathered to be a part of the official opening of the new Strathcona Community Centre on December 5, 2010, hosted in conjunction with the county’s annual Celebration of Lights. A range of fun, family activities were arranged that led up to the grand ribbon cutting to official open the building. Christmas lights were then turned on outside of County Hall, all along Prairie Walk, extending towards Festival Place Theatre. As these lights lit up the dark evening, fireworks set off in sequence down Prairie Walk.

Green building for long-term vision

With prescience to not just use the land for short-term financial gain, Strathcona County will benefit in the long term from a cultural centre. Strathcona County Council’s vision was to create the Community Centre as a model of sustainable development. The county’s strategic plan emphasizes a triple bottom line approach to encourage a balance of environmental, economic and social elements to sustain a healthy and vibrant community. “When it came time to develop this civic centre, the county committed to make this a green building to align with the county’s vision and support the sustainable development goal of Centre in the Park. The technology and materials chosen for the building’s design and construction would have the greatest operational life and least impact on the environment,” adds Siga. “That was the definitive criteria for moving this project forward.”

The Community Centre is built toward achieving LEED certification, of which the county will apply for soon. The centre was built with reclaimed and recyclable materials, such as low or zero-emitting materials, and is connected to the Community Energy Centre (houses the system that delivers heat to a number of buildings in the area from a central source to reduce greenhouse gases by 1,100 tonnes annually). “From the start, for all employees, for the community, the Community Centre and surrounding facilities have been a great demonstration of what is possible,” says Siga.

All eyes on Strathcona County

The Community Centre is a physical symbol of the county’s prosperity, and aligns with the new economic development and tourism plan that has been approved by the county. According to Gerry Gabinet, Economic Development and Tourism Manager for Strathcona County, his office’s new focus will be on continued attraction within Alberta’s industrial heartland, and the diversification of the county’s reliance on oil and natural gas extraction and manufacturing.

Of the oil refineries in Western Canada, Strathcona County is home to three: Shell, Imperial Oil and Suncor. “That gives us some really good benefits. We have a large tax base from our major industrial areas such as Strathcona Industrial Area and Alberta’s Industrial Heartland. This unique makeup of the Strathcona municipality produces an auspicious tax base, pooling 55 per cent of its taxes from its industrial, commercial and retail sectors,” says Gabinet.
An indication of the importance of the industrial sector to the county can be found in the Alberta Industrial Heartland Shell Scotford expansion. It was the largest single construction project in Canada last year. At peak construction, the product had over 12,000 workers on site to add capacity for an upgrader.

The success of the industrial base is important for the livelihood of the county. Housing prices in Sherwood Park (the county’s main residential area) have steadily increased since 2006. The augmentation of the Strathcona County’s core with the new Community Centre in Centre in the Park will continue to add value to a county situated in the middle of Alberta’s biggest industrial regions.