Minden arena process faces criticism
By Darren Lum
Published Oct. 6, 2016
In the face of pointed questions and criticism over the proposed plans for the S.G. Nesbitt Memorial Arena, the township of Minden is asking for patience and understanding during what they referred to as the early stages of this process.
Minden’s director of community services Mark Coleman stood at the front of the room, as he led the presentation at the public meeting for the S.G. Nesbitt Memorial Arena renewal options on Monday evening at the community centre on the second floor of the facility being discussed
He provided information using a PowerPoint presentation, revealing costs for the three options, information about the town, its demographics and challenges and the recent results from the Renewal Options surveys that have been available online and in hard copy at the township office since July 1. See mindenhills.ca/arena for information and the survey.
Coleman was regularly interrupted by the most vocal and by those who raised concerns regarding: the figures, lack of any research for a pool, no option D, lack of a needs assessment and relevance of employing a strategic plan in reaching a decision.
The three options are repair the current building for $3 million; implement a major renovation with enhancement of new technology for $6.6 million; or build a completely new facility for $12 million. All of these options will require a long-term interest loan.
The most up to date survey results from more than 300 respondents show there is a virtual three-way tie for all three.
The option descriptions offer differences in the wording and space given to each – 11 lines of text versus four for each of the other options. In option A and C the words and phrases used are “dated” and “increased liabilities” and “does not support” and “beyond” while option B uses “improved” and “enhancements” and “extend.”
Many expressed feeling shut out of the process because none of the research or figures in the presentation were related to a pool.
Coleman said cost is always the major question, which is related to tax base and users.
It was pointed out much larger centres are having difficulty drawing enough users to cover costs.
Challenges for the community related to funding the facility include rising OPP costs, availability of infrastructure funding, economic capacity, operating costs, donor fatigue, tax implications and time for replacement.
When asked about experts and oversights Devolin said the focus was on the technical aspects of this project.
Evaluations have been based on consultation from experts before they made any comparisons.
Devolin adds there will be further consultation with more experts related to what is inside the building.
After the meeting, Coleman clarified that the key component for research on this project is the energy ice plant system being considered, which is at the heart of any type of facility.
The $1 million system that is part of option B and C will not only be safer with just 10 to 15 per cent of the ammonia used compared to the current system, but it will also save upwards of 50 per cent in energy costs, including the capability (with the addition of parts) to be used for a pool or curling rink.
With this system, a pool could be added after the fact.
Like any recreation facility, the arena is subsidized and currently runs an annual deficit of more than $300,000.
Established in 2015, the task force includes Lisa Schell, Jim Garbutt, Devolin, Peter Oyler and Dwight Thomas.
They will examine feedback and research. This past summer they went to see facilities in four communities: Fenelon Falls Community Centre, Ennismore Community Centre, Lakefield Community Centre and the “grandest” North Kawartha Community Centre in Apsley worth $12 million.
Coleman said Ennismore was the best example of renovation because that facility is similar to ours and faced similar challenges.
Fenelon Falls employed option A and are facing further repairs in five years.
None of these has a pool, which was pointed out by pool supporters.
Local realtor Lynda Litwin challenged the township to make sure needs are being met before any costly decisions are made and referenced a needs assessment.
Some people in the audience said more people would use a pool than a rink, specifically referring to the aging population.
Garbutt didn’t hide his opposition to a pool. This led to shouted questions about whether this reflected the overall opinion and if there are any pool supporters on the task force. Devolin, who said Garbutt is representative of part of the constituency, said he was open minded and will look at the information before making any decision. Some pool supporters challenged the task force members to read the pool feasibility study to understand the facts before making a decision.
Area resident Lisa Tolentino believes there was an opportunity missed in light of impending construction plans for Ron Nesbitt’s karate and fitness centre on Bobcaygeon Road. Something like that facility should be at the community centre, she said.
Tolentino acknowledged a possible conflict of interest for Councillor Nesbitt, but said “some sort of connection public/private enterprise” could have been established. This is where a master plan or strategic plan could provide a direction.
She said from her professional experience with community engagement this process should include small focus groups and discussions to help reveal what people want at this facility in 40 years.
Although there weren’t any numbers related to a pool, the town’s CAO and treasurer Lorrie Blanchard provided assurances that staff will be looking into the financial figures for it. She points out that this is a process and nothing has been decided. It’s still early.
“This process is about hearing what people have to say,” she said. This was the second meeting for options. The first was held on Sept. 19 and another has yet to be announced, but Devolin assured the audience there will be more.
Coleman said under the municipal act this community hub will not and has not been run like a business.
“It’s not simple. It’s a complex process and nobody has the magic wand or the magic bullet. It’s a tough decision that often becomes a political decision and directive to staff, as to what they feel the vibe of the community is in terms of how much we can increase taxes, afford, what services are the priorities for the community so not any one of us has the perfect answer. This is a collective process that this community, council and task force are engaged in and hopefully we can do the best we can for the community,” he said.
The task force draft final report is scheduled to be completed by Nov. 23 and be presented to council by Dec. 8. Construction is expected to start in 2018. Dates are subject to change.