Voters will get final say on arena

Minden Hills councillors expressed frustration about the length of time it has taken to make decisions on so-called value-added items at the refurbished arena and community centre.

The value-added items are the things not covered in the construction contract with MBC, the Ottawa-based builders who are nearing completion of the $12.7-million and counting project. We say ‘and counting’ since councillors approved another $75,000 at a Sept. 17 meeting, for lobby furniture, fitness room access control, a refurbished canteen and signage.

There are still a number of costly items that need to be incorporated – such as a canopy at the rear entrance, sprinklers for the second-floor community space and Scout room, paving of the balance of the parking lot, office furniture and equipment, and an LED message centre – totalling about $200,000.

When the arena was given the green light back on Feb. 14, 2019, Mayor Brent Devolin boldly suggested the community could raise $1 million towards these types of things. To date, to our knowledge, nothing has been raised. While council recently struck a fundraising committee, Coun. Jennifer Hughey, the township liaison, noted they had not yet met since the township has not finalized committee meeting protocol under COVID-19. She did hint at a possible donation towards paving at the meeting but did not disclose more.

While no one could have anticipated a pandemic during this project, it has to be stated that fundraising had stalled for months before COVID-19 even became a factor locally. The township could not get members of the public engaged and it was falling to senior staff.

Some of the other talk at that Feb. 14, 2019 council meeting had to do with it being an Integrated Project Delivery, a delivery method that seeks efficiencies and involvement of all participants through all phases of design, fabrication and construction.

Unfortunately, there have not been efficiencies. MBC had to come back to council for another $250,000 in December, 2019, and has said there will be no savings on the project. And there’s that raft of value-added items that remain outstanding.

Talk at the Sept. 17 meeting turned to how to fund the add-ons. Should council use its recently-announced budget surplus, reserves or borrow the money?

Devolin said there were pools of money in both the surplus and reserves and he could go either way. Coun. Jean Neville mentioned debenturing. Some items may be eligible. Some might not. Coun. Bob Carter, though, rightfully, said they can’t touch the surplus for the arena.

He said arena costs must remain arena costs so taxpayers will know exactly how much the project has cost them. And make no mistake, it is taxpayers footing the bill. They will be paying off this loan for many years to come.

Without a doubt, it has been a controversial project. Right from the start, many people wanted a swimming pool. They did not get one. It has been costly. Key staff have left during the building phase. There’s been a pandemic that has slowed things down. The community has been divided.

Regardless, the arena is ready for ice as of Sept. 25 and hockey is expected to commence Oct. 5. We are not sure about figure skating. We also don’t know what it means for the gym and walking track or the community centre. The township has been slow to reopen its facilities even with Phase 3 reopenings. The next challenge will be whether to open, and how to open.

Within the next month, the project will be complete and taxpayers will hopefully get a chance to see the final product – even if only virtually – so they can decide whether the 2014-2018 council’s gamble was worth it in time for the 2022 election. On Feb. 14, 2019, it was Devolin, now deputy-mayor Lisa Schell, and councillors Ron Nesbitt and Jean Neville who voted in favour of the project. Carter, Hughey and Coun. Pam Sayne voted against. In the end, Devolin cast the deciding ballot.

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