WINDSOR, N.S. - Windsor council has approved moving forward with Long Pond as the preferred site for a future arena despite a final plea to reconsider from Coun. Jim Ivey.
Deputy Mayor Laurie Murley made the motion to move forward with the Long Pond site during a special council session Feb. 20. The motion, seconded by Coun. John Bregante, included a direction for staff to begin looking into modifying Haliburton House and the rebirth of the Stannus Rink to create a heritage component.
But Ivey says he still has major concerns about the project and how it could impact taxpayers.
“There are some things that fundamentally, within the motion, like modifying Haliburton House, I don’t know if that’s our responsibility, quite frankly,” Ivey said. “I think we’re reaching too far.”
He also said there’s no definition of what the rebirth of the Stannus Rink would look like. He's concerned that modifying Haliburton House and looking into repurposing the Stannus Rink were outside of council’s ability or mandate.
“We have done no public consultation on this, I know people… say we have, but we haven’t,” he said. “We’re voting on a motion that is putting us down a path without any control over the numbers that surround this project.”
He said the motion was an "open door" to proceed without all of the information.
“We’ve had no financials presented about what this option is going to cost us as it relates to locating this rink up at Long Pond,” Ivey said. “We have no numbers, we have had no analysis on the tax impact on the citizens of the Town of Windsor… and now we’re going to own the rink all on our own.”
Chief administrative officers Louis Coutinho said the town has “a really good estimate” about how much the facility could cost but couldn’t provide the full numbers until a Class D estimate is done. Now that the Long Pond site is selected, that process can begin, he added.
Windsor council previously agreed on the Long Pond site as their preferred location during a recent committee of the whole meeting.
Read more about the selection process here:
Ivey proposed amending the motion, recommending removing the Haliburton House and Stannus Rink portion until those two components are better defined. He also proposed that town staff begin work on obtaining all necessary information on the rink project so council can review the information before advancing the application.
That amendment was not seconded by any other councillor and, as a result, did not proceed to a vote.
Where's the money?
Coutinho told council an architectural design will need to be drawn before a Class D estimate can be done.
He said the facility’s entrance will highlight the town’s hockey heritage with approximately 500 seats inside.
He cautioned the council that staff now only have five weeks to fundraise, with the hope of netting an additional $1 million for the project.
If no additional fundraising comes in, and the federal government signs on to the project for one-third of construction costs, the arena will be a $7.5 million facility. Without federal funds, the town has $5 million to work with, with funds coming from its own coffers, $1 million from the municipality of West Hants and $3 million from the province.
With an additional $1 million in fundraising, the facility could increase to a $9 million arena.
Either way, Coutinho said the arena will have to be relatively modest, with room to expand and add on amenities later, such as walking trails.
The recently-renamed GFL Recreation Centre in Brooklyn cost approximately $6.7 million to build.
Read more about the GFL Recreation Centre
Coutinho said fundraising had been going relatively well earlier in the process, in terms of pledges from private donors, but that was stalled after the town and Municipality of West Hants took over ownership in order to secure federal funds.
All of the fundraising was in pledges, not actual cash.
When asked what the contingency will be if the project becomes too expensive, Coutinho said the council would have to decide how to move forward.
“Council has made difficult decisions in the past,” Coutinho said, referring to the wastewater treatment plant.
“They might come back and say, 'It’s impossible, it can’t be done,' at which point we’ll come back to council and say, 'We have no project to move forward, what would you like us to do?' It might be something totally different from what we’ve discussed.”
More stories on the proposed Hockey Heritage Centre
‘It’s a boondoggle’
Ivey remains concerned about the short-term and long-term costs this facility could present to the taxpayers of the town.
“$6.7 million, that’s what it cost (the Brooklyn arena) two years ago, and we should take no consolation knowing that the land was already done, they already had their ice plant, their Zamboni, supplies they saved,” he said. “To do that rink again today would be $9 million. Us thinking that $9 million is going to cut it to get a rink up at KES isn’t even going to come close.”
He added that the public had not been brought into the discussion.
“For four years, we have told the public, 'We will consult with you.' We have done this habitually as a council. And again, we’re making a decision and we’re leaving them out, and we want the public to get behind us on this?” he said.
“It’s a boondoggle, it’s a boondoggle."
The motion passed after that remark, with all but Ivey voting in favour.
Mayor Anna Allen said the public would be engaged “when we have something to show (them).”
“We are not going to overbuild, we’re going to build something we can afford,” Allen added.
For Allen, the rink represents something to move the community forward.
“This is so exciting, when’s the last time we’ve had a new build in this community? Super 8, yeah, we’ve got a new apartment building going up, when’s the last time we’ve had something so exciting to take this community forward?” Allen asked. “Please, unless you’ve got a really grave concern, please address it here to get the answers and get the truth. There’s a lot of crap going on out there people, it needs to stop.”
Allen said the town will have a public meeting about the arena at a later date.
“This community deserves something really nice,” she said. “It’s been a long time coming, so let's get together, let's make it happen, something we can afford and something that will work for the community.”
Murley said she was pleased that council was moving forward.
“Now is the time to come together to realize this dream,” Murley said. “It’s time to hit the ground running, there’s not more time for stalling on this. I believe that fundraising is possible and that we need to have a positive attitude that will garner trust in those who may want to invest.”
Facebook post addressed
After the motion was passed, Allen and Coutinho discussed a Facebook post that was published by Harry Ullock, a resident of the town and member of the Windsor Agricultural Society, which they said was inaccurate and attacked the reputation of council and staff.
“I generally don’t respond to many of these things, because I think people have every right to be engaged and express their opinions,” Coutinho said. “But there were some accusations that were made on Facebook and it has to do with (Mayor Anna Allen’s) reputation and my integrity.”
Coutinho initially began going through Ullock’s Facebook post point-by-point, saying it’s important that this type of information cease in the public domain. He did this in front of the public gallery, with Ullock in the audience.
“Mr. Ullock, the reason the study was done, is because there was a debate in the community,” Coutinho said. “Somebody ordered a study so that our councils could make a decision.”
Ivey took exception to this, calling out, "Point of order," and saying that it was inappropriate as the public has not had a chance to give input on the project.
“I can appreciate that whatever was written online, which I have yet to review, but if we’re going to engage in a tit-for-tat here on what one of the citizens wrote because we’re not willing to have an open public forum with them, I do not believe it’s appropriate that our CAO sit here and choose to engage in debate,” Ivey said. “To be fair.”
Coutinho continued some remarks, but Ivey repeated, “point of order.”
Ullock, who also submitted the post as a Letter to the Editor to the Valley Journal-Advertiser, said he wishes he could have responded back.
In the letter Ullock critiques the arena selection process, saying council ignored the findings of the feasibility study. He suggests that Wentworth Road would have been a wiser option for council to make, given the already upgraded roads.
“Louis doesn’t take criticism of any kind lighty,” Ullock later said.
Town staff has published a fact sheet on the Town of Windsor website to address some of the questions and rumours in the community surrounding the project.
Following the meeting, Allen said discussions on upgrading College Road and other access points to the arena will be discussed at a later time.
“I can’t see staff dealing with that at this point because we have five weeks to get this going, they need to get the Class D estimate,” Allen said. “The (College Road) upgrades are in our plan anyway, and we’ll deal with that when we can.”