Residents get arena project preview
By Chad Ingram
Published Dec. 20, 2018
Minden Hills residents got a glimpse of what a new arena and renovated community centre could look like earlier this week, and Minden Hills approved additional funding for what is being referred to as the “validation phase” of the project, that phase essentially being a series of engineering assessments of the current structure.
During a Dec. 13 council meeting, a motion came before councillors to extend the letter of intent between the township and the “integrated project delivery team,” which consists of McDonald Brothers Construction Ltd. and Parkin Architects Limited. That extension was to approve increased funding for the “validation phase” of the project. In September, the previous council approved $140,000 for the completion of the validation phase, with Councillor Pam Sayne voting against the motion in a recorded vote. Sayne has expressed concern throughout the process that the project was being awarded to a lone bidder.
The motion before council at the Dec. 13 meeting was to approve up to another $140,000 for the completion of the validation phase, upping the spending ceiling for that part of the project to $280,000. A staff report from community services director Mark Coleman showed that expenses for the completion of the validation phase were expected to cost $252,000.
“Basically, this is the continuation of the investigation process to find the technical elements of the building that [the township] currently owns, along with the liabilities associated with it,” said Mayor Brent Devolin. “It’s a lot of money, it’s hundreds of thousands of dollars you’re spending to get to that, but in the absence of it, there’s no other way.”
The total estimate for the project has jumped from the $10-million figure that was included in McDonald Brothers’ response to the RFP, to nearly $12 million. McDonald Brothers was the sole company to respond to the township’s request for proposals for the project, and in July, the previous council approved, in principle, an expenditure of up to $10 million for the project, but no contract has been signed.
An initial estimate from the township for a renewal of the facility presented in October of 2016 was $6.5 million.
Councillor Bob Carter wondered why the township would proceed with the work if the final project cost was more than some members of council were comfortable with.
“If the number is now $11.95 million, which is about 24 per cent more than it was, and this is just a hypothetical, if that $12 million is not palatable to me, right now, why would I spend this $112,000, why would I OK this $112,000?” Carter asked. “Because, it doesn’t really matter, if I get this report and it’s still the $12 million, and it’s still not palatable, then why would we do that?”
“I think we need to finish it to really see what our options are,” said Devolin, who also said that it was his understanding that the life expectancy for the arena, constructed in 1972, was “at or near zero.”
A report is scheduled to come before council in January, and that at that point, Coleman said, councillors could make decisions about alterations to the proposed project in order to lower its cost.
“You may choose, at that time, to cut certain parts of the project off, which may trim $2 million, or whatever,” he said. “You may not choose to do everything that this project has evolved to, or you may choose to do everything.”
Devolin asked council if they’d be more comfortable making the decision after they heard a presentation from the construction and architectural firms involved during a Dec. 17 open house, and a special meeting of council was then scheduled for Dec. 19.
At the Dec. 19 meeting, Carter wanted it made crystal clear that proceeding with the rest of the validation phase did not commit council to any further work on the project.
Coleman said when a report regarding the project comes back to council in January, council can choose to do what it wants with the project, including altering its scope, or stopping it altogether.
“If you don’t agree with the price, or you don’t agree with the design, or any reason, for that matter,” Coleman said. “[Council] could pause, they could stop it outright, they could terminate it outright.”
“So, council could say, well, this is no longer $9.6 million, or the gym isn’t big enough, or whatever it is, and we could stop everything at that time?” Carter said.
“Correct,” said Coleman.
“Absolutely,” said Devolin.
Councillor Pam Sayne expressed concern that Minden Hills could not afford a $12-million project, saying she’d done the math on a $12-million loan with four per cent interest, and that it amounted to monthly payments of $57,000, for 30 years. Councillor Jennifer Hughey said she would have appreciated seeing the information and property tax implications that were presented to members of the public during the Dec. 17 open house beforehand, as she was approached by residents about it immediately following the meeting.
More than 100 residents made their way to the community centre for the Dec. 17 open house, where Mario Pistone, a vice president with Parkin Architects Limited, gave them an overview of the proposed project.
The main reason for the large jump in the project’s cost is that it’s been determined that the current S.G. Nesbitt Memorial Arena will need to be demolished, and the cost of the new arena is estimated at $8.2 million. The cost for the construction of a gym with elevated walking track is estimated at $2.9 million; renovations to the existing community centre $400,000; and landscaping, including the creation of a parking lot with separated pedestrian and vehicular areas, is estimated at $300,000.
Pistone reviewed studies that have been done on the arena in the past, one that was completed 17 years after the arena was constructed. Pistone said that report showed that chloride salts were used in the mortar mix in the building, “and as a result of the introduction of those salts into the concrete, it led to a premature degradation of the block, and led to corrosion in the steel. And those are legacies that are still evident.”
A 2014 report by engineering consulting firm Greer Galloway included an estimate of $2.4 million for repairs to the arena, but, Pistone said, addressed mostly surface issues.
“Their report was based primarily on visual inspection,” Pistone said. “They did not have opportunities to get into inaccessible spaces, to dig into the foundation, and to look at some of the more hidden conditions surrounding the structure.”
“It was just a cost estimate to stretch out a few more years of the existing building,” he said.
The validation phase has included structural engineering assessments that, Pistone said, have shown the arena’s foundation would be unable to handle the scope of the reconstruction.
“The key to this, is can the foundation support the additional roof load that’s required by changes in the building code, by changes in the building systems, where we’re adding insulation, adding building components on the roof, and can that structure support the additional loads of the roof and walls, again, changes in the building code called ‘high importance,’ that require walls to be more resistant to wind forces,” Pistone said.
“Construction practice was not up to what the expectation was,” Pistone continued. “We have examples of columns that aren’t sitting properly on the piers . . . piers that are not sitting wholly on the foundation.”
“When we dug up and exposed the foundation, we found, again, the mortar had rotted away, the original foundation is the contaminated block, and deteriorating,” he said.
The proposed new arena would use a pre-engineered, frameless structure, “effectively a load-bearing wall, in corrugated steel,” Pistone said, explaining these types of structures have an elevated R-value. R-values measure a material’s conductive heat flow; they are used to rank the insulating effectiveness of materials. Higher R-values reduce energy consumption.
“So, as a result of going with this frameless structure, we’re able to get a higher performing building,” Pistone said.
The plan for the arena includes a 200-foot-long rink (the current rink is 185 feet long), bleachers, and six change rooms, as well as space for the new ice plant. At one point during the meeting, a resident asked why six change rooms were necessary. Pistone explained it was to allow for two incoming teams, two teams on the ice surface, and two departing teams. The project includes new accessible washrooms for the arena, and for the current cluster of washrooms and change rooms to be transformed into administrative space for the community services department.
The project includes a long list of energy efficiency and accessibility upgrades from the current facility, including connecting the community centre and arena, which are currently not linked in an accessible way, with an elevator.
A gymnasium that can be used for pickle ball, a sport popular with the community’s senior population, and other activities is to be outfitted with an elevated walking track around its circumference. Currently, such activities take place within the community centre space. One resident, a pickle ball player, noted that the plan had gone from including four pickle ball courts to three.
At one point, the cost estimate for the project had exceeded the $12-million mark, and some changes were made in an attempt to drive the expense back down.
“Basically, we had a high-school-sized gym,” said Patrick Brousseau of McDonald Brothers. “So, we wanted to give you, the community, a NCAA-style basketball area, so you could have multiple sports. But the budget was $12.5 million.”
“Unfortunately, the easy stuff is to cut,” Brousseau continued. “Yes, we did cut back on the pickle ball, but the arena got a little bigger. Why? Why? Everybody says why. Why? The 200-foot rink had nothing to do with it. What happened was, during the validation phase, we found out that the frameless building system that we were recommending . . . it’s corrugated metal . . . and partway through the evaluation we found out we could offer one more metre, or two, to the arena, and it would decongest the players exiting the change rooms behind the dasher board.”
Brousseau said this change would also improve viewing for spectators watching a game from the second level.
“When we modelled it, we realized that we were squeezing it too much, and we realized that we needed to expand the viewing, the experience as a spectator . . . a lot of people forget that,” he said. “It’s all about playing, playing, playing, but how about the parents that are watching their kids play. How about that?”
There were questions and some criticisms from residents, with some noting the absence of a pool from what had become a $12-million project. A pool had been a No. 1 priority of many people who undertook a survey regarding recreational needs early in the process.
As he has in the past, Devolin reiterated the high cost of the construction, maintenance and operation of a pool, saying he wasn’t aware of any communities the size of Minden Hills that had constructed a pool within the last 20 years. When a critic responded with reference to Bracebridge, where a number of local families travel to use an indoor pool, Devolin responded that Bracebridge had 10 times the population, and probably 10 times the assessment base of Minden. He noted the Pinestone makes its pool available for public use, and suggested that it might be difficult in Haliburton County to find a sufficient number of lifeguards to staff a pool.
One resident asked what the property tax implications of building the facility would be.
Minden Hills chief administrative officer and treasurer Lorrie Blanchard had done some calculations. As Blanchard explained, she did those calculations based on the assumption that the township would borrow $12 million on a 30-year debenture. She based the property tax increase on a house assessed at $300,000. With a two-year phase-in, property taxes on that house would increase by $30 for 2019, and then by another $30 in 2020. The increase would then remain at that level for the length of the debenture. That figure is separate from whatever other tax increase council might pass in a given year.
“And that’s showing it in its most negative light,” Devolin said, adding that was assuming the township received no grants to help with the project, and did not account for any community fundraising that may take place.
Coleman said there were some limited grant opportunities. The township currently has a $1 million accessibility grant request pending, and it’s expected it will hear back about getting some or all of that funding early in the new year.
Construction on the project would begin in April of 2019 and, if all goes according to plan, be complete in August of 2020, in time for the 2020/2021 ice season.