Sportsplex sod turning the beginning of uncertain era

Demolition and construction for the new RecPlex brings optimism, apprehension in Spence community

  • The future of 373 Langside remains unclear as the university plows ahead with the latest project of its aggressive expansion campaign. On Sept. 6, the university broke ground on the $40-million UNITED Health & Recplex. – Wayne Vernon

  • The future of 373 Langside remains unclear as the university plows ahead with the latest project of its aggressive expansion campaign. On Sept. 6, the university broke ground on the $40-million UNITED Health & Recplex. – Wayne Vernon

The University of Winnipeg’s UNITED Health & RecPlex sounds like a dream come true. But will it live up to its promises?

Community members are pondering this question as buildings come down along Langside and Spence streets to make way for construction of the $40-million project.

On Thursday, Sept. 6, the university, flanked by city officials, hosted a symbolic sod turning for its project next to McNamara Hall, which is being torn down to make room for the complex.

Demolition should be complete by Sept. 14, according to university president Lloyd Axworthy.

What remains in question is 373 Langside, an abandoned house the university purchased near the site of the Green Corridor, a green space project the university began work on last year.

Currently, plans for the dwelling remain unclear. Rumours circulate that this and other Langside dwellings will be torn down.

Don Miedima, housing coordinator for the Spence Neighbourhood Association, called 373 Langside an “eyesore” and is glad to see it go.

However, with affordable housing in short supply, he notes it is important that the loss of this dwelling means construction of a new one.

“We can’t have a net loss of housing here,” Miedima said.

The SNA is still in discussion with the university and the city over how to ensure there is still adequate housing, he said.

Axworthy maintains the university’s plans will not result in a loss of housing to the area.

“We don’t knock the houses down. When we built the Richardson Building and McFeetors Hall, several houses we actually moved,” Axworthy said.

Construction crews will be driving piles for the centre’s foundation by this fall, and the new facility will be ready by spring 2014.

There will be ongoing renovations to the Duckworth Centre to make room for additions of a pharmacy and a yoga centre.

Plans for the RecPlex include a dance studio, a health, wellness and healing centre, and an indoor soccer field.

A community charter will ensure that at least one-third of the facility’s operations are reserved for community use.

The facility will be “revenue-generating,” supported by a mix of user fees, parking fees and the annual $60 athletic levy students approved in a referendum last October, according to the university.

The province kicked in $15 million for the construction, while the city gave $2 million.

Helen Adamski has lived on Langside for eight years, and is skeptical of what the new RecPlex means for her and her eight children.

“There’s always a hidden cost somewhere,” she said.

Adamski suspects there will be surprise fees for both students and community members hoping to use the new facility, regardless of promises the university has made.

“They’ve built so many buildings and they’re taking down so many buildings, where is the money coming from?” she said.

Adamski, who is also a member of a neighbourhood citizen’s patrol, worries the RecPlex will result in more partying and more dangerous, unwanted activity.

When the Magnus Eliason Recreation Centre opened on Langside, Adamski saw an influx of gangs and drug-related activity. Her children are afraid to go to the centre, and Adamski fears this new facility will be no different.

“When more people come in, there’s always some sort of hullabaloo, poor losers at sporting events, rivalries,” she said.

Craig Fraser, who has lived on Langside for seven years, views the RecPlex as an overall improvement to the area, but worries it will mean less parking.

The Green Corridor has already absorbed two parking lots, and crowds drawn to the RecPlex are likely to choose Langside as a convenient place to park.

“I’m glad they’re upgrading the neighbourhood, but where are we going to park?” he said.

Published in Volume 67, Number 2 of The Uniter (September 12, 2012)

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