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Editorial: Windsor's arena project must deliver best bang for buck

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The communities of Windsor and West Hants are no closer to seeing a state-of-the-art hockey heritage centre constructed now than they were several months ago.

But that's not necessarily a bad thing, especially if it means that the project will have all issues ironed out before shovels go in the ground.

The area does have, however, a report that provides the pros and cons associated with where a facility could be built.

The findings of the feasibility study, which was commissioned by the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, Communities, Culture and Heritage, and the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, was released mid-month. The study wasn't ground-breaking and contained very few surprises for stakeholders. Most of the items stated were either common knowledge or just plain common sense.

The consultant was tasked with reviewing two sites: Windsor Agricultural Society land, which is near Highway 101 and is already a tourist draw, and a piece of property near the fabled Long Pond and King's-Edgehill School, which is nestled in a residential area but is considered rich with hockey history.

While the consultant didn't draw any conclusions as to which location was better, the merits and weaknesses of both sites speaks volumes.

If money wasn't an issue, either proposal would be enticing. Either one would be fitting for the community. But money is tight and no matter how it comes together, taxpayers will be footing the majority of the bill.

The task that council is now faced with is how to move the project forward. And it's a task that has been taunting various councils, groups and organizations for years. This isn't the first kick at the can for Windsor. There have been a number of failed attempts at getting a project off the ground.

The key to any successful project is community buy-in. Council needs to listen to the public — they plan to hold a town hall meeting as they iron out more details — and council needs to do their due diligence.

The report brings up some interesting points that must be examined before a site is selected. According to the report, the roads leading to Long Pond all need to be repaired, realigned or otherwise modified. There was mention of installing a set of lights, and widening and raising College Road to prevent flooding, for example. How many millions will these renos cost? That must be factored in.

The exhibition site needs to be elevated due to flooding concerns, with an estimated price tag of $700,000. Will this affect other sites that are located along the same Tregothic Marsh flood plain in Windsor? Will more facilities be required to upgrade to accommodate for this potential future risk in order to meet ever-evolving building codes and insurance requirements?

The study also reviewed similar projects that have been successful. It appears that the sites that serve more than just one purpose — like doubling as a conference centre or concert venue — are the most sustainable. Should current project plans be rejigged to capitalize on that?

The feasibility study fell short in some areas, but it did open up the conversation and that's a good starting point.

By and large, the community wants to see an arena project move forward — but it must be practical and sustainable long into the future. Unexplored costs must be brought to light. Planning issues must be addressed. The price tag must be kept within reason, and the public must be consulted, as it's the public that will be paying the tab for years to come.

Both Windsor and West Hants councils have their work cut out for them. At least they're working together.

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