COVID delays opening of Minden’s new rec centre

Minden’s new $12.7 million arena and community centre is not expected to open until June 1, and possibly later, staff and councillors determined at a Minden Hills budget standing committee meeting Jan. 14.

With the province of Ontario declaring a second state of emergency until Feb. 10 at the earliest, director of community services, Craig Belfry, said his original plan of a soft March 1 opening is not going to happen.

Mayor Brent Devolin raised the issue while talking about the second draft of the community services department budget. Belfry said he was looking for an additional $616,225 or a 51.57 per cent increase from 2020 with “the majority of this increase in association with operationalizing the new recreation complex, including equipment, supplies and staffing.”

Devolin said following the stay-at-home order effective Jan. 14 to Feb. 10, he couldn’t see a soft opening happening before June 1, well past the hockey and figure skating seasons. He added there was no point in including new staffing dollars for the facility as of Jan. 1, 2021, but instead phasing hiring and related costs to Sept. 1.

“I think anything short of that is a pipe dream,” Devolin said. “I just don’t think it’s on. Turns your world upside down, would you say?” Devolin asked Belfry.

Belfry said the stay-at-home order “dramatically” changes what he and his department had been planning for. He said with a facility opening delayed until June it means reduced costs. For example, they will not have to turn the ice plant on until late August, saving $10,000-a-month until then. He agreed staffing could also be delayed.

Devolin added even if the township is able to open the complex in June, or perhaps more realistically for Sept. 1, the community centre won’t be open for the types of functions it has hosted in the past until there is widespread vaccination locally. He added it would likely mean limited numbers in the fitness centre and on the walking track. Belfry thought a reduced opening could be managed with existing staff until fully operational.

CAO Trisha McKibbin said she would do a follow-up report for third round budget talks that not only represents reduced staffing and operational costs due to COVID, but reduced revenue as well. Council voted to set a tentative opening date of June 1, 2021 with new staffing not to be budgeted until September 1, 2021.

During the discussion, council also touched on some of the remaining purchases at the arena and community centre to get it up and running. A report itemized some $167,000 worth of items that would be considered for debenturing. Council also discussed inclusions of volleyball lines for the gym floor ($1,800), finishing and sealing the concrete floors in the stands and upper arena public washrooms ($35,000). There was also talk of a snack bar ($60,000), and a security system ($10,000). Council also approved the purchase of a ride-on floor machine ($15,995) and an Olympia leveller ($16,800).

Director of finance, Lorrie Blanchard, said they would be looking to borrow approximately $12 million for the arena project over a 25-year period, which would amount to $638,000 a year in repayments. In her initial report, Blanchard put all debentures together, including roads, bridges and culverts, but Coun. Bob Carter said “these need to be separated as much as possible, so (they are) kept transparent and clean.”

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