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Viewpoint: Salmon Arm’s unique recreation management system

Shuswap Passion by Jim Cooperman
Steven Knight boots the ball past brother Andrew and goalie Tye Major during the Shuswap Youth Soccer Association’s Family Footy event, organized in partnership with the Literacy Alliance of the Shuswap Society at the SASCU Indoor Memorial Complex, for the last day of Unplug and Play week on Saturday, Jan. 29, 2022. The complex is operated by the Shuswap Recreation Society. (File photo)

By Jim Cooperman

Special to the Observer

Most cities in British Columbia have a parks and recreation department that provides and manages these services for their many user groups, whereas in Salmon Arm, recreation management is the responsibility of the charitable, non-profit Shuswap Recreation Society.

The city and the society work in tandem to provide services to dozens of sporting groups and many spectators, so that everyone benefits. The only other community in B.C. that operates under a similar system is Greater Victoria.

It was the city of Salmon Arm that initiated the process to create the society, when it asked the community in 1993 for individuals who would be interested in developing a new arena to come forward. As a result, a group of business leaders and local politicians formed the Shuswap Arena Society with a mandate to provide a needs assessment and determine the scope and location for a new facility. They evaluated the existing inventory of municipal land and developed a plan that included an estimate of the funds needed.

Once the site had been chosen, the society began fundraising in earnest, via raffles and events and by providing charitable receipts for the many significant donations coming from local businesses and families. A significant amount of money was raised that enabled the group to purchase additional land adjacent to the city owned property and to cover the costs for the preliminary construction plans and initial constructions costs for the twin sheet arena.

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The next step was to seek public approval via a referendum, which was needed for the city to utilize municipal tax funds to cover the full costs of building the arena. This referendum easily passed with an 87.4 per cent approval and the society led the process to construct the arena.

While the arena was under construction, the city asked the society to transition into managing the operation of the facility. Consequently, the society recruited staff and developed operational plans. Initially, society board members volunteered to help operate the arena, such as selling tickets and running the concessions. Thanks to early successes and sufficient income from ticket sales and fees, the board was able to hire more staff and move to an advisory role.

In 2005, the city requested that the society take over the management of the Recreation Centre and swimming pool, along with all the field bookings. Consequently, the group changed its name to the Shuswap Recreation Society, and it now also operates the indoor soccer facility in the old arena and the Little Mountain Fieldhouse.

Today, the Shuswap Recreation Society operates at arm’s length from the city, with a budget that is approved yearly by the city council. Currently, there are eight staff members under the leadership of general manager, Darby Boyd. They utilize specialized software to manage all the bookings for the facilities and the fields. A key part of the operation is maintenance, which is done by city employees, who look after the fields and keep the facilities clean and in good working order.

Throughout the year, the number of people who are involved in the wide variety of sports or who attend games are in the many thousands. Some of the sports include hockey, lacrosse, figure skating, speed skating, softball, swimming, pickleball, archery, rugby, football and soccer. Salmon Arm is an active, sports-minded community and it is no wonder, thanks to the help of the Shuswap Recreation Society, that it will be hosting the 55+ games in 2024.

When asked why the recreation society management system works so well, Darby Boyd explained how a non-profit society is more flexible with decision making and is more responsive to the needs of the community because of its direct relationship with the user groups. The overall direction comes from the directors, who themselves come from the various user groups, either as players or parents of young athletes. As well, when extra funds are needed, the society can raise the money because of its charitable status.

Salmon Arm is fortunate to have so many community leaders who invest time and money to promote an active, healthy lifestyle and provide opportunities for its youth to participate in such a wide variety of sports. Furthermore, its very successful user led, recreation management system should be a model for other communities to emulate.
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