FORT FRANCES — While the mayor of Fort Frances recognizes the benefits of a provincial funding program for municipal infrastructure, he would like to see eligibility expanded so more types of projects can be covered.
The Ontario Community Infrastructure Fund provides funding to rehabilitate critical infrastructure to municipalities with a population of less than 100,000, with $400 million committed to 425 small, rural and northern communities across Ontario in 2023.
However, it has one shortcoming.
Eligible projects only include core infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, water and wastewater, including sanitary and stormwater facilities, but leaves behind other aging municipal facilities like recreation venues.
Fort Frances Mayor Andrew Hallikas said the town often uses that funding stream, but would like the province to look into expanding the programs beyond its mandate.
“We access that a lot. It's a really good fund but it doesn't really allow us to deal with facilities. We're looking for it to be expanded in its mandate as to what it can be used for. And also, that it will be in existence permanently,” Hallikas said.
“This is the problem. Every municipality in Ontario has an infrastructure that is deteriorating. We're concerned with our facilities."
The Fort Frances Memorial Sports Centre is in need of a substantial upgrade to meet current accessibility requirements. The town has issued a call for tenders to rehabilitate and upgrade the pool.
“We have a bunch of facilities, as do a lot of municipalities, that were constructed between 1960 and 1980 which result in a situation where many of these facilities are not barrier-free and many are cost prohibitive to make barrier-free as many of our facilities are failing as a result of years of underfunding,” said interim CAO Travis Rob.
“For the Town, the Memorial Sports Centre is only one of our sites with accessibility challenges, some of which we have worked to address over the years. We, however, are limited, particularly in the pool area, in physical space to dedicate to things like change rooms, washrooms, and corridors to meet the requirements of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.”
In 2021, the federal and provincial governments provide $5 million for the facility. But post-pandemic, intense inflation has put a strain on infrastructure projects as municipalities struggle to buy materials. As those prices skyrocket, $5 million just isn’t enough.
“In addition, the pool itself is constructed in such a way that there are limitations on what can be done to improve accessibility beyond meeting the minimum requirements. These are the challenges we are facing in our facilities portfolio of infrastructure,” Rob added.