WINDSOR, N.S. – Over 200 people packed the Hants County War Memorial Community Centre on March 19 to learn more about the town’s proposed arena project at Long Pond.
Town staff and the architect that has worked on the project, Talbot Sweetapple, presented an updated concept of the arena, which featured a walking track on the upper level, a modern – transparent design, with a footprint that fits into the surrounding terrain near King’s-Edgehill School on College Road.
The arena has also jumped up in potential cost, pegged at an estimated $12.5 million, well over the $9 million estimate council was working with previously.
Final costs won’t be known until the completion of the tender process.
Chief Administrative Officer Louis Coutinho said during his presentation that the arena would likely cost $11.4 million no matter where it was built.
He said that the town will now need to fundraise approximately $2.2 million by March 31, 2018 - an ambitious, and admittedly unlikely, goal.
So far the town has committed $1 million of its own funds, along with $1 million from West Hants over five years and $3 million from the province. Town staff is hoping with an extra $2.2 million in fundraising, they can get one third of construction costs covered by the federal government.
Long-term operational costs of the facility are unknown at this time.
It’s likely that Windsor council will request an extension to the federal government’s timeline to apply for funding by a year in order to secure more donated funds that can be applied to the town’s application.
Coutinho also said that council may have to negotiate with the Windsor Agricultural Society to extend ice time at the Hants Exhibition Arena if the facility is not built for the 2020 season.
Talbot Sweetapple, the architect who designed the concept, gave an overview of what the arena could look like - giving a digital walkthrough of the design, which also contains sitting areas, artifact and trophy cases, and a hockey stick shaped ceiling/rafters.
Following the presentations, residents of both the Town of Windsor and the Municipality of West Hants asked questions and gave comments - some were in favour, others had concerns.
Several residents who spoke said it was time for the community to move beyond the division and work to make the arena a reality - something they say the town desperately needs.
While others said the location, near Long Pond and King’s-Edgehill School, did not make financial sense and also had concerns about traffic and lack of access.
Others pointed to the faults in the process itself, bringing the project to a public meeting with less than two weeks left to proceed, with very little input. Some suggested a plebiscite would have been appropriate.
To read what others said, read reporter Colin Chisholm’s live tweet re-cap of the event
Mayor happy with turnout
Mayor Anna Allen said the meeting went better than she was anticipating.
“I felt the people were very well behaved, I know there’s a lot of passion in the room,” Allen said. “We did get to hear people and there’s been lesson learned. The torch has been handed to council and we’re running and trying to do the right thing, and it has been tough.”
“I’m very happy with the turnout, and very happy with the comments we received tonight,” she said. “Coming into this, I wasn’t sure we were even near the right track, but now I’m a little more secure that we’re closer to it. Give it a little more time.”
Allen said council may look into requesting an extension to apply for federal funding, but whether or not that’s possible for this project remains unclear.
If the delay does go through, council would seek to renegotiate ice time at the Hants County Exhibition Arena, although the ice plant there is nearing the end of its lifespan and could require expensive maintenance.
Allen reiterated that the citizens made it clear they want a new rink, but don’t want their taxes to go up to pay for one.
She said that council has no appetite to raise taxes either, which are already perceived to be quite high at $1.90 per $100 assessed value. Although relatively high, it is not the highest in the province - that appears to go to the town of Lockeport, which had a residential tax rate of $2.31 per $100 during the 2015/2016 tax season according to data from the provincial government.
A few residents brought up the idea of holding a plebiscite on the arena debate, but Allen said it wouldn’t have been fair to the residents to hold one as concrete information on the scope and scale of the project is just becoming available now.
“Of course we talked about it, but what would we have asked people? Tonight was the first time we had anything to actually show them something, with numbers,” she said.
Future public meetings will be scheduled as the project continues, Mayor Allen said.
Jeff Redden, who is heading the project’s fundraising aspect couldn’t give an exact figure on how much has been raised for this arena proposal but said they had previously received over $300,000 in pledges for the project during a previous phase, when the Long Pond Arena Society was running the initiative.
“I am confident in the businesses I have spoken to,” Redden said. “I have to reconfirm their pledges, but I’m confident it can be done.”
Contained within those pledges is a Hockey Canada Foundation contribution of over $100,000, which Redden said was incumbent on the facility being located near Long Pond.
More stories on the proposed Hockey Heritage Centre
- West Hants backs out of arena agreement, recommits $1 million
- Windsor council, staff to reach out to Hockey Heritage Arena stakeholders
- Council, stakeholders reviewing findings of Windsor arena site feasibility study
In order to meet funding goals, at least $2.2 million will need to be fundraised to build the facility, a target Redden says likely can’t be met by March 31, 2018.
“I’ll be honest, I don’t think we can do it by March 31 this year, we can try,” he said. “I’m hoping for an extension for 2019 and I feel very confident about our fundraising prospects because of the Long Pond story.”
He said he’s hoping the federal government will grant this iteration of the rink concept an extension to apply for funding, to allow them more time to fundraise.
Several community members brought up concerns during the meeting, including the facility’s location, costs - both long term and short term, and more.
One of those who spoke was Bruce Connolly, a retired teacher who lives in Windsor.
Connolly moved to Windsor in the early 70s after obtaining his degree from Acadia and began teaching in the region. He said he’s seen the town decline as more major employers have left the area and he’s concerned that a facility like the one proposed for Long Pond would be unsustainable by the town’s tax base.
He said the public information session was well presented, but said that bringing all of the information to residents with 10 days left before a deadline was undemocratic.
“It was excellent how they showed the building, inside, outside,” Connolly said. “If we’re going to do something like this, then fine, make it spectacular, but let it be seen. Put it where it’s accessible, where there’s sidewalks, lights, restaurants and a hotel.”
“Not hidden away on King’s-Edgehill land.”
Connolly said he’s concerned that the private school is getting a rink courtesy the tax payer.
“I don’t believe my concerns were addressed, and I only got to talk about one-third of what I wanted to talk about because of the time limit,” he said.