Members of the public have had their say on the news town council plans to tear down and rebuild the Don Stewart Recreation Centre, rather than renovate.
The reaction from about 70 people at an information meeting on June 8 – a week after council announced its plan – could best be described as mixed.
Most like the idea of a new facility but many had differing ideas of how to attain that goal.
Former MLA Paul Delorey said the town should look forward to a growing community and build an arena near the new health centre.
“But by building the arena right where it is now, we’re not planning for the future,” he said. “We’re planning to be able to maintain what we have now for a long, long time.”
Delorey also said the town should keep the arena open for the coming winter and not lose an ice season, which would happen with a teardown and rebuild.
“I think we’re underestimating the damage that’s going to be done to sport by losing a full season,” he said, suggesting some people will leave the community if a season is lost.
Delorey said the town should study the cost and timeline of building near the health centre.
His opinions earned the loudest applause at the meeting.
Sandra Lester commended council for building a new arena, but she also questioned why it would be on the current site.
“Why aren’t we keeping this facility for the next 15 to 18 months in operation and move the new arena to a different area?” she asked.
Lester added the town could eventually use the current site for a community hall and a town hall.
Dave Brothers, vice-president of Northern operations with Clark Builders, said the conditions at a possible site near the new health centre are unknown and testing would take a couple of months to even start.
Plus, Brothers said building on a new site would cost more money because of the need for additional infrastructure, such as water and sewer, roads, sidewalks and more.
Council has entered into negotiation with Clark Builders for a rebuild of the recreation centre on the current site. Demolition is scheduled to begin July 2, except for the relatively new swimming pool.
Coun. Jason Coakwell said the cost of rebuilding still needs to be determined but it would be no more than the estimated price for renovating provided to people prior to a plebiscite last fall on borrowing money for the project.
“At this point, we wouldn’t be able to present any financial numbers or cost to the project because negotiations are still ongoing but what I can say is the negotiations are within the budget we previously identified and that was presented at the plebiscite,” he said.
In other words, rebuilding on the current site would cost $24.5 million or less.
Coakwell pointed out that previous public consultations found 65 to 70 per cent of people wanted the facility downtown.
At the June 8 meeting, some residents supported rebuilding on the current site, calling it downtown and central.
A downtown site keeps the town alive and bustling, said Tim Borchuk. “It’s vibrant.”
Others had issues with various aspects of a rebuilt rec centre – the absence of a full-sized gymnasium being foremost among them.
However, Coakwell said a planned multipurpose room is close to the size of a gymnasium, although it will not have a gymnasium floor or basketball nets.
As for the concern about losing an ice season, Coakwell said the town will provide outdoor ice sheets.
“At this time, we’re looking for ideas from the community and business how we’re going to handle this winter’s ice season,” he said. “We’re not considering it a lost season. It’s going to be a modified season of some sort.”
Coakwell said the target to have a new rec centre substantially complete is Oct. 20, 2017, which will allow for the start of a full season next year and the Arctic Winter Games in 2018.
The councillor explained the change to rebuild from renovation was related to $4.2 million in federal funding.
The town had been contemplating a negotiated contract for the project but had to go through a competitive request for proposals (RFP) process to get the federal money.
“In the RFP, it was determined that the renovation option and the new build option were coming back with very relatively close dollar amounts,” he said, explaining there would have been additional costs to keep the ice surface open during renovations, anywhere from $2 million to $2.5 million.
Brothers said Clark Builders understands that losing an ice season is a huge issue for the community.
“But we believe 100 per cent that renovation would have had the same effect. You would have lost a season,” he said, explaining renovation would have discovered unknown problems with the existing building.
Coakwell touted some of the advantages of a rebuilt rec centre, including a larger ice surface from the current 85-feet by 189-feet to NHL-size 85-feet by 200-feet, reduced risk of schedule and cost overruns, larger change rooms, a higher ceiling for a walking track, better views of the ice for spectators, better storage, improved parking and 10,000 more square feet in a rebuilt rec centre compared to a renovated one.
The councillor said some design work still needs to be done, and one of the reasons for the public meeting was to hear ideas from the public.
There will be two more public meetings in the design stage.
Deputy mayor Donna Lee Jungkind said one of the main reasons the demolition has been set to begin on July 2 is to allow the Diamond Jenness Secondary School graduation event to proceed as planned on June 30.
Jungkind said there is no plan to lay off any town staff as a result of the rebuild project.