Continued criticism on public input process
By Chad Ingram
Published Oct. 31, 2016
Minden Hills township continues to face criticism over a public input process on renovation options for the S.G. Nesbitt Memorial Arena.
Earlier this year, the township issued a survey and held two public meetings regarding the future of the building.
Providing three options, the survey asked respondents to indicate their preferred one. Option A – an upgrading of the current facility – would cost about $3 million. Option B – major renovations to the building, which would include the addition of energy-efficient infrastructure as well as new change rooms and office space at the front of the arena – would cost some $6.6 million. Option C – the construction of an entirely new arena – would cost between $10 million and $12 million.
At an Oct. 3 public meeting, some residents expressed concern there had been no research done on what it would cost to incorporate a pool into the design and that more options had not been offered.
During their Oct. 27 meeting, Minden Hills councillors were visited by township resident Lisa Tolentino, who works as a healthy communities consultant.
Tolentino asked councillors to consider widening the scope of the township's public input process.
“I'm doing this as an individual who does this type of thing professionally,” she said. “I'm also here as a resident of Minden Hills. One of the reasons that I care, is we are of course talking about millions of dollars.”
Tolentino noted that most of the township's consultation methods and forms had used the word “arena,” as did the name of the task force overseeing the process
“This is a misnomer and I think you realize that,” Tolentino said. “The building, as we know, is a community hall and recreation centre.”
The S.G. Nesbitt Memorial Arena is attached to the Minden Hills Community Centre, the buildings essentially forming a single, recreation centre.
Tolentino went on to list the wide variety of events that take place at the building, from public meetings to conferences to dances and weddings.
“It shows, to me, this building really is a community hub,” she said, emphasizing the community centre was one of the largest public spaces in the county. “Never mind those who might have new and different ways of using the building.”
So far in its public input process, Tolentino said the township had been doing a lot informing and encouraged more collaboration with community members.
“By collaborating with the community, the outcomes will be far greater than they have so far,” she said.
“I think that things have felt divisive up until now and I don't think anyone's comfortable with the way things have been going.”
Tolentino said she had two requests of council. One was to start using the term “community centre” instead of “arena” in its consultations on the building and the other was to extend the consultation period, in order to make it more meaningful.
“If we always do what we've always done, we'll always get what we've always gotten,” she said.
“We had to start somewhere,” said Reeve Brent Devolin, adding the task force would be meeting in the near future for the first time since the last public meeting. “I'll take the blame for the arena name if that's a misnomer. There'll obviously be recommendations after the task force meeting. There's a number of things being considered to improve the process.”
Councillor Pam Sayne said she'd encourage the task force – which includes Devolin, councillors Lisa Schell and Ron Nesbitt, chief administrative office Lorrie Blanchard and community members Peter Oyler, Jim Garbutt and Dwight Thomas – to adopt the process Tolentino was suggesting.
“I think the community has this belief that everybody on the committee is anti-pool,” said Schell. “I'm not anti-pool. Sitting here [on council] for 10 years, this has been going round and round.”
In an email to council later that day, Tolentino wrote “to say that I think that I may not have been fully understood, and that I think I have also incorrectly been perceived to be part of the group of community members who are 'in favour of a pool.'
“For the record, I am neither for nor against a pool. I know that it is a huge cost for a small municipality such as ours and I would actually need to be convinced that it would be viable in the long term before taking a position either way. In fact, my presentation had nothing to do with a pool - which is why I never mentioned it. Rather, it had everything to do with gaining input from 'other' factions of the community, such as those who use the community hall space specifically. I also think that the low turnout at the public meetings to date actually reflects that this segment of the community has not felt that the current 'arena' (and pool) based discussions are inclusive of their wants and needs.
“Finally, I want to also make it clear that I am not criticizing the actions of staff, council or the task force to date. I fully appreciate that this is a difficult process to navigate and that everyone involved so far has understandably responded in ways that are based on the current situation. I am merely hoping that we can change things regarding the process from here on in so as to achieve an outcome that the majority of the community will be happy with.”