What's the rush?
By Chad Ingram
Published Aug. 9, 2018
Minden Hills council has awarded the contract for a major renovation of the S.G. Nesbitt Memorial Arena and Minden Hills Community Centre, in a move that seems a little hasty.
Councillors made that the decision at a special meeting last month, a meeting that was obviously scheduled so that council could give the go-ahead on the arena rehabilitation before the so called “lame duck” period began for Ontario municipalities on July 27.
Lame duck begins when nominations for municipal elections end, and means that municipal councils are restricted from making any major decisions – including large spending decisions – for the last bit of an election year.
The price tag for the project, which will include an expanded ice surface, new change rooms, offices, a gymnasium with an elevated walking track and much more, is an estimated $9.6 million. That is a big chunk of change for a small municipality. This is a major project.
The request for proposals period for the project lasted just about three weeks, and the township had only one bidder. So that bidder, an Ottawa-based company, will get the contract.
That is certainly not to imply the company is not going to do a good job, but that is a pretty short intake period for such a major project.
While the township is applying for a $1 million grant to help with accessibility upgrades, at this point, no exterior funding has been acquired for the project, meaning, ostensibly, Minden Hills taxpayers could end up carrying the full, nearly $10 million cost.
The mayor is optimistic the township will be successful in obtaining funding along the way.
Despite the size, scope and cost of the project, a feasibility study was not performed, so it’s unclear what targets for usage of the facility might be. There are other unknowns as well, such as what the cost of the gym equipment might be.
When conversations about the rehabilitation of the arena began two and half years ago, the figure that was floated was $6.5 million. We are now more than $3 million above that, though much of the difference is accounted for by the addition of the elevated walking track, a feature that was not included during initial conversations.
Critics of the decision and advocates of an indoor swimming pool are quick to point out that the cost comes close to the estimated $10- to $12-million price tag for an aquatic facility. However, the operating costs of a pool would add an estimated $300,000 to $500,000 annually to the township budget.
While there are not many people contending the arena does not need a lot of work, the decision was a bold one, if not rushed, and it’s a near certainty the project will be a topic of conversation during the municipal election campaign.
With a price tag of nearly $10 million, councillors need the process to be seamless, and the end result to be spectacular.