On Monday night Minden Hills residents got a preliminary conceptual snapshot of what a new arena and revitalized community centre might look like during a presentation by reps of the architectural and construction firms involved in what has been labelled the S.G. Nesbitt Memorial Arena renewal project.
And the plans look impressive the drawings sleek the facility state of the art. But there are a few glaring issues that Minden Hills councillors must resolve before forging ahead with any project that will likely represent the greatest single capital investment in the history of the township.
The first is of course the price and contingent upon that just what the township will be getting for that price. Two years ago the figure that was presented to the public by the township for what was “Option B” on a township-issued survey – an option that was more than a renovation of the facility but less than the construction of a new one – was $6.5 million. Earlier this year the township issued a request for proposals for the project and council agreed in principle essentially (no contract has yet been signed) that it would give that job to the sole bidder for an estimated price tag of $10 million. That price tag has now grown to an estimated $12 million as the proposed project includes a completely new arena and a gymnasium that would also be a new addition. That is an incredibly substantial expense for a small municipality one that at least one member of council feels the township cannot bear and the debenture would be put on the backs of taxpayers for 30 years. Ability to pay and comfortably pay must be taken into very serious consideration by council.
Another consideration is the composition of the facility itself and whether it truly and equitably addresses the community’s needs. At $12 million we are getting into a price zone that at least a number of years ago could have created a facility with some kind of aquatic component. It seems pretty clear that this particular project will not include a pool.
A huge flaw with the proposal presented on Monday night was the size of the gymnasium. As one pickle ball player noted it had been reduced in size from what was in the plan initially; in pickle ball terms from four to three pickle ball courts. In non-pickle ball terms it has been reduced from a full-sized gymnasium like one would see in a school to one that is too small to house a basketball court. To spend $12 million on a facility that has a gymnasium that is too small to truly be a multi-sport space would be incredibly shortsighted.
Meanwhile the size of the ice pad would grow from 185 to 200 feet and six new change rooms each built to house 25 adults would be constructed; that’s to accommodate two incoming hockey teams two on the ice and two who’ve just finished playing. The proposal as it sits prioritizes hockey above all else and it shouldn’t since the entire community not just hockey families will pay for the project.
This project can be a gleaming legacy or it can be a 30-year blight.
That will be up to council.