After nearly two years of advocating for a new community centre, Saskatoon Tribal Council Chief Mark Arcand is glad official discussions with the city about the proposal are slated to start on Monday.
City councillors will talk about entering into discussions with the tribal council to build and maintain a new recreational facility to replace White Buffalo Youth Lodge, which has been serving the community for more than 20 years.
If the proposal is approved in the future, it’s expected that the facility would be next to the new City Centre School, which is being built on the current site of Princess Alexandra School on Avenue H.
Arcand said White Buffalo, which is several blocks away on 20th Street, has served the community well, but the building is getting old and cramped and needs to be replaced.
“Before COVID hit, we were over capacity, we had 35,000 kid visits a year,” he said. “We basically outgrew our facility.”
The White Buffalo Youth Lodge has been providing programming in the core neighbourhoods in Saskatoon, offering everything from fitness activities to medical clinics and space for cultural ceremonies.
Ever since May 2020, when talks with Saskatoon Public Schools began to build the City Centre School project, the Saskatoon Tribal Council has been involved, advocating for a rec centre replacement.
The City Centre School project is amalgamating three elementary schools in Saskatoon’s core neighbourhoods (Pleasant Hill, King George and Princess Alexandra) into one large, 500-student school that is scheduled to open by September 2024.
Chief Arcand said the opportunity to build a new recreational centre next to the school is exciting.
“We look at it as a fully-fledged community centre working together with the school,” he said.
At present, the City of Saskatoon owns the White Buffalo Youth Lodge building and pays to maintain and service the centre, while the tribal council manages programming and day-to-day operations.
A new agreement for the proposed centre would need to be decided on by both parties.
Lynne Lacroix, general manager of community services with the City of Saskatoon, said the project is still in early stages. The city plans to hold community engagement sessions on the project this spring and to talk to Indigenous elders as part of the process.
Lacroix said it’s possible the city will partner with other groups as well.
“First and foremost, we want to focus on a partnership with the Saskatoon Tribal Council,” she said. “Then, once we we’ve got some solid foundation, we could look at other partners that would add value to the project.”
Lacroix said the Saskatoon Tribal Council has committed to finding $5 million in grant money for the building project and that no money from the city has been budgeted to build the youth lodge as of yet.
An opening date for the proposed centre has not been set.