By Sue Tiffin
Published July 26 2018
Minden Hills council met in a special meeting last week and supported a recommendation from township staff to award a major renovation project of the S.G. Nesbitt Arena and Community Centre that could cost $10 million and a three per cent increase to the 2018 levy to a lone bidder just the week before they become a lame duck council.
According to the report from the community services department the township had issued a request for proposal seeking an integrated project delivery team including cost estimates for the renewal of the aging building on June 15. The RFP closed on July 9 with just one proposal bid from McDonald Brothers Construction of Ottawa.
“Even though only one proposal/price submission was received in the call for proposals staff and the arena building task force feel that the price submission provided by MBC is competitive and comparable to other recent arena projects throughout Ontario and will result in excellent value for money to the taxpayers facility users of the Township of Minden Hills” reads a report from community services director Mark Coleman.
According to the report the project includes the major renovation of the arena portion of the facility including new walls roof floor ice plant boards and glass LED lighting new dressing rooms and offices installation of elevator for accessibility between upper and lower levels parking lot resurfacing and the following optional items: extension of the ice pad to 200 ft. x 85 ft. from 180 ft. x 80 ft. addition of gymnasium with raised indoor track and renewable energy generation. The total cost of the project including optional items which township staff and the arena task force recommended approving comes to $9648657. A $1 million grant has been applied for to help with accessibility upgrades.
Coleman noted that the addition of the gymnasium with raised indoor track was something that would make the arena attractive as a multi-purpose facility and allow some sports that are played outdoors like shuffleboard to be played indoors in inclement weather. He said that the expanded ice area which was recommended by the town’s figure skating club so they can host different types of events as well as improved change rooms and accessibility would generate extra revenue by making the arena safer and more usable to different ages of hockey teams.
The special meeting took place at 9 a.m. on July 18 so council could discuss the report prior to their next scheduled council meeting on July 26. Election nominations close on July 27 at which point council will become a lame duck council. Under Section 275 of the Municipal Act a lame duck council restricts an outgoing council from making any major decisions from the close of nominations to the election of a new council.
“The 2018 approved budget has $300000 allocated for the architectural design engineering plans general contracting/consulting services phase of the project” reads Coleman’s report. “As the proposal pricing for the work has come in above budget and ‘lame duck’ provisions of council come into effect as of July 27 2018; and for this council to move forward now with work that will commit and carry on into the new term of council council will need to approve the design/consulting and construction phase costs and agreement by July 26 2018.”
Coleman suggested if council approved the recommendations it would be possible to start securing materials in advance to lock in pricing while Mayor Brent Devolin noted there was an opportunity to potentially mitigate some of the effect of a looming trade war.
“Staff respectfully reminds council that the life span of the S.G. Nesbitt Memorial Arena remains on ‘borrowed time’ and that the township has invested in the engineering inspection and evaluation of the current facility; and considerable time energy and public consultation via the arena task force staff and council since 2014 in advancing this project to current state of readiness” reads the report. “The arena building task force and staff suggests that the RFP process has provided a satisfactory means to move forward at this time and recommends that this project advances without further delay in maintaining the current project Page 8 schedule; and proceeds to the design and construction phases by council accepting the proposal from McDonald Brothers Construction – United Recreation. By moving forward with this proposal the Township of Minden Hills will achieve the most advanced recreation facility within Haliburton County to date that does not preclude future expansion of additional facilities.”
Funding for construction phase costs will primarily be secured by the township taking out a long-term debenture according to the report.
Councillor Pam Sayne raised questions about whether infrastructure funding was guaranteed to be available in light of cuts after the recent provincial election.
“We need to know that before we take any kind of risk” she said.
“First of all these numbers don’t include any money from anybody else” said Devolin. “They include no fundraising no real infrastructure money so this is the worst case scenario that if it’s 100 per cent on Minden Hills ratepayers’ dime. The reality is I don’t think that’s going to be. I think even with the changing government with mobility and some of these other initiatives that I think there will be some. How much? Hopefully there will be lots. But I’m saying this is the down and the dirty that if we’re paying for it ourselves this is the money. I don’t expect that’s the case but it might as well be shown in the most negative light and there’s lots of opportunity both in fundraising and mobility money and I think there’s some infrastructure money coming provincially and federally certainly with seniors and mobilities …. That will all improve this picture. It hasn’t been framed in a way that it could potentially get worse.”
Sayne said she found it an exciting project and that she liked a lot of the plans before bringing up her concerns that included the way the process had worked so far the single bidder despite the township’s invitation to 16 companies what user fees would be whether there would be collaboration from the county and how the project would be funded.
“I would say once the die is cast talking to some of those other facilities the operational and other costs and revenue-increasing possibilities of which fundraising is one of them that will be the next kind of intensive part in the next year apart from the engineering design” said Devolin. He noted that county council had not discussed the project directly.
Coleman said user fees were set each year and were the same regardless if someone is a resident or non-resident.
“I would like to add that if people are coming from out of our municipality to use these facilities we have all the additional benefits of them shopping here I think it’s a terrific economic opportunity” said Councillor Jeanne Anthon. “So if it’s such a headache to start to calculate non-resident fees I think the benefits are there.”
Sayne said she agreed that the community would benefit from people coming from out of town to use the facility but said she was just worried about Minden Hills residents and whether they would see the benefits of paying for it.
In his report Coleman had recommended that council directs that 50 per cent of cost savings be redirected back to the profit pool per a construction management contract and that the remaining 50 per cent cost savings be re-invested in project enhancements to be determined as may be approved by council.
Devolin said many of the moving pieces that Sayne had discussed could be addressed as the project progressed.
“I just wanted to say that because it’s my job as the treasurer $10 million is very much a contingent number and I just want to make sure council’s aware of that” said treasurer/chief administrative officer Lorrie Blanchard. “At the meeting with McDonald Brothers they talked about they’re not even sure what they don’t have a really true picture of the foundation. They mentioned the possibilities corrosion. Until they get behind walls and underneath things they weren’t even sure about they hadn’t done a core sample on the parking lot so similar to the fire hall we may be faced with [something] that we weren’t aware of.”
Blanchard said they hadn’t yet accounted for the cost of equipment for the gymnasium or an additional worker for the facility. She said unfortunately the council hadn’t “done a big extensive feasibility study” to know how many people would use the arena or what they would pay for user fees.
Sayne said the township hadn’t thought of other issues that might influence council’s financial position including preparing for climate change.
“Although I’m very supportive of this I’m very frightened about the long-term costs” she said. “I want to make sure we have a mandate for this community that this is the plan that we want to go forward with because if you don’t you’re not going to do fundraising. There was a really strong movement toward a community pool which has not been included in this process which I think there would have been a lot of community support to do the fundraising for but that has not come out.”
Sayne asked if there was a way to add a pool if funds could be raised for that.
Devolin said the design was intended to not limit future enhancements including a pool.
“If somebody came along and decided with a large estate and just wanted to write a large cheque and give us a pool that the design needn’t rule that out…We don’t want to limit it that if something like that was decided in the future it would appropriately plug in to the design of this facility.”
Sayne asked about the cost of a pool.
“For two years talking to every municipal politician that I know of in Ontario that has pools and half of them have heard reading the local press and whatever that it’s come up here that dont’t go down the road. You don’t want to do it. It’s just the cost. In larger communities they’re having a hard time bearing whatever and we just don’t have the scale. In communities five 10 times larger than ours are having significant problems.”
Devolin said even in Lindsay they would struggle without having the college population available to help work at pools as lifeguards.
“We didn’t ask for the dollars that part’s the easy part it’s the operational costs and the staffing costs that everybody I’ve talked to over two years say do not go down that road.”
Currently the arena’s operating costs are $350000 annually. Besides the building costs of a pool which would cost about $6 to $8 million for a four-lane 25-metre pool with a warming therapy pool the annual operating cost would add an additional $300000 to $500000 to the budget.
“That’s significant” said Coleman. “And that’s as Brent alludes to it’s very hard-pressed for 99 per cent of the municipalities to absorb those costs and to manage those costs very well. It is significant. A lot of the municipalities that have existing facilities or are considering new ones they’ve all gone through a lot of them have determined not to proceed unless there really is an economic scale of population size and demand and a very thorough feasibility study to support the pool but in most communities a lot that have facilities may have ended up with them many years ago and they still struggle now to continue maintaining them or having them.”
Coleman said the design engineering phase is also called the validation phase and there would be further public consultation and discussion with stakeholders in the future.
The township’s arena task force conducted a public consultation in 2016 which included issuing a survey to residents and hosting two public input sessions. Members also reviewed a 2014 engineering report on the facility and visited recreation facilities in a number of other small communities in Ontario including Fenelon Falls Ennismore Lakefield and North Kawartha.
It was determined at that time that a completely new facility with an estimated price tag of $10 million to $12 million was outside of the township’s financial capabilities.
A few members of the public who attended the meeting last week expressed concern about the lone bid and lack of feasibility study completed before the tendering of the project.
The complete report from the July 18 meeting is available on Haliburton Civic Web at haliburton.civicweb.net.
with files from Chad Ingram