It’s a warm summer evening on the north side of Saskatoon and residents in this busy neighbourhood are enjoying the opportunity to cycle, walk, play tennis or rip up the tarmac at the nearby skateboard park.

The focal point for many of these activities is the park across the street from Bethany Manor, a large centre for retirees and seniors run by 12 different Mennonite churches. Tennis courts, a skateboard park and a grassy area are all sandwiched neatly into the park space and are widely used by the community.

It’s also the same space that Bethany’s administrators have their eyes on as they seek a viable spot to expand.

All of this came into sharp focus at a public meeting this summer between Bethany Manor, city planners and area residents that took place at Bethany Manor.

Bethany Manor administrator Teresa Isaac presented statistics defining the needs of the retirement community in the city. “By 2026, it is projected there will be 60,000 seniors [in Saskatoon],” she said, calling it a “demographic tsunami” that will increase already-lengthy waiting lists for Bethany apartments.

She also presented future health care concerns of Bethany residents if the seniors complex cannot expand nearby. “There is programming, family and friends . . . that require a connection with our facility,” Isaac said. Residents are worried that they will be separated from loved ones as their healthcare needs change, she explained, citing meetings held last year where such concerns were highlighted.

Chrissy Bergen, 31, has lived in the area for four years. She attended the meeting because of a concern that the neighbourhood teens wouldn’t have a place to hang out if the skateboard park gets taken away because of Bethany’s expansion.

Plans for the expansion will take into account the community’s need for green space, promised the architect hired to oversee the expansion. “The park doesn’t disappear; it simply moves to the roof,” said Alvin Fritz, calling it a “community-accessible rooftop garden.”

And city planners have promised to move the tennis courts and skateboard park to a new location nearby.

A worker for the city admitted that it is unusual to sell park space. “But park redevelopment does happen,” said Roxane Melnyk, a consultant for Saskatoon’s parks department, who called the expansion a “good project.”

Comments from citizens who attended the meeting asked why the city was “selling green space for a project” and some were worried that the intersection would look too crowded with the added building.

Strong emotions on the proposed changes came out during the meeting when the city refused to make time for an open forum. One man was angry; others disappointed.

“It was the only chance for the community to ask questions,” said Ruth Martens, who lives at Bethany Manor.

Bergen, too, was disappointed that there wasn’t more discussion. Instead, people were invited to ask questions in a one-on-one format after the meeting.

While empathizing with area residents, Arnie Fehderau, pastor of First Mennonite, places the blame on the shoulders of the provincial government for the problems. “Bethany Manor has been asking permission for years to build a long-term-care home,” he said, wondering if this could have been avoided with better management.

Isaac agrees. “In 2004, when we were planning Bethany Place [a four-storey independent living complex], the health region told us there was no more capital funding for long-term care,” she pointed out, but it now has changed its mind and sees the need for such facilities.

Before expansion plans of any kind can move forward at Bethany Manor, they must be approved by Saskatoon city council.