Arena project causing discomfort

I walked away from last Thursday’s Minden Hills council meeting unsure of exactly how much more money taxpayers are going to have to spend to complete the multimillion-dollar S.G. Nesbitt Memorial Arena and community centre project.

It was apparent to me that I wasn’t the only one confused either. Some councillors were also puzzled about what had been placed in front of them. Sure, it’s a complicated process, made more complex by the Integrated Project Delivery or IPD nature of the project – pitched as being the best thing since sliced bread, but now we’re told it didn’t deliver the savings the project’s cheerleaders had sold it on.

The idea was that builder, McDonald Brothers Construction, Parkin Architects and the township would collaborate to optimize results, including reducing waste and maximizing efficiencies through the design fabrication and construction stage. Presumably it would also save money.

We found out Dec. 12 that they’d spent the entire contingency of $220,000. They came asking for an added $250,000 contingency. There was also talk of more than $300,000 in value added items. The lenders, Infrastructure Ontario, are not covering all of the costs.

We were told there were challenges with the old part of the building. We were told they couldn’t find local workers so that bumped up costs. Then we were told about other changes to the project that some of us had never heard about before – so called upgrades according to MBC. My eyebrows went up. Why upgrade something, presumably at a greater cost, when the project is not finished? Wouldn’t one complete a project, spend the budget, then go to town with any savings?

I’ve always had concerns with Minden’s ice palace project. I never liked that the township went it alone, and didn’t at least talk to Dysart et al, Algonquin Highlands or Highlands East about a bigger project, perhaps incorporating a swimming pool. With Dysart et al getting a recent land donation on County Road 21 between Minden and Haliburton for a future recreational centre it irks me even more since a collaboration might have delivered so much more for so many more people. I’ve never liked how the proponents of the arena have largely dismissed the concerns of detractors. I don’t like that despite monthly updates, we are learning about new features of this project every day. I don’t like the sometimes convoluted financial reporting. I certainly don’t like that the budget appears to have been blown and more money is being sought. I know, it’s a contingency, and may not have to be spent, but the way the project has gone to date, I suspect it will be.

I also didn’t like the tone that if the money wasn’t handed over by council, it might mean some promised features may have to disappear. On top of this, Director of Community Services Mark Coleman leaves the township for another job in early January and it appears the fundraising group that is hoping to raise $750,000 for the project is in disarray. Perhaps when the ribbon is cut in six months’ time, the facility will blow all of our socks off and my criticisms will be for naught. I can only hope so.

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