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April deadline looming: Windsor, West Hants begin first steps towards hockey heritage arena

From left, West Hants Warden Abraham Zebian, Windsor Mayor Anna Allen and Windsor Chief Administrative Officer Louis Coutinho listened as the public had a chance to speak during a special joint council meeting Dec. 18.
From left, West Hants Warden Abraham Zebian, Windsor Mayor Anna Allen and Windsor Chief Administrative Officer Louis Coutinho listened as the public had a chance to speak during a special joint council meeting Dec. 18.

WINDSOR, N.S. — The proposed hockey heritage arena is still in the works, but both Windsor and West Hants councils have several obstacles in the way before securing funding from the federal government and other partners.

During a special joint council meeting on Dec. 19, 2017, both councils went through the necessary steps in order to keep the project afloat.

It was agreed that the chief administrative officers for both municipal units are to develop a common terms of reference, which councils can then take to the public and use when corresponding with potential partners.

Eleven councillors voted in favour, three were opposed.

The terms of reference highlights the main components of what the project will be — namely a hockey heritage aspect and an ice surface.

The discussion leading up to this point was at times heated, with some members of council saying the process has been too slow and that developing a terms of reference is not necessary, especially with a feasibility study ready to go.

Others pointed out that the entire process has been done backwards, which has helped lead to this divisive point.

- To read more about how the meeting went, read reporter Colin Chisholm’s twitter stream here

This comes after months and years of back-and-forth between councils, societies and citizens trying to make a similar project happen, only to have plans fail and the partnerships fall apart.

But both Windsor Mayor Anna Allen and West Hants Warden Abraham Zebian say they’re confident that this latest move will get the project back on track.

Allen said the terms of reference should be complete by Jan. 9, 2018.

“We’ll put those out in the following weeks, and then we still have February and March to deal with the project,” Allen said. “The project doesn’t need to be written in stone, but it just has to show what we want for funding.”

That timeline is important because in order to qualify for funding under the federal government’s Build Canada fund, they need to have their proposal submitted by April 1, 2018.

Allen added that she doesn't believe it’s possible to pick a viable site out of the feasibility study as it stands.

Allen said that fundraising for any project going forward will be one of the most challenging aspects of the proposal.

“It’s pretty evident that there is a sector that is upset about how the process has happened, but it is what it is,” she said. “We’re hoping to stay on track and do the best possible process. Public engagement is something that has to be done in the right way to get the right information.”

Allen said there’s still a lot of confusion and frustration in the community with the process so far, but said she’s hopeful it can be rectified in the coming months.

Zebian said the municipality remains committed to delivering a hockey complex.

Zebian added that he wants to see the project move forward because the area doesn’t have many hockey amenities available for being considered ‘the birthplace of hockey.’

“You can’t buy a hockey stick, you can’t buy a hockey jersey; the arena is almost 40 years out-dated,” Zebian said following the joint council meeting. “To suggest that we forget an arena, and just work on a museum? Let’s face it, museums are out-dated. To bring it up to 2018 standards, it needs to be interactive.”

He added that having pictures and artifacts displayed statically on a wall is not enough to stir the imagination of visitors.

“We need a complex that is for the community, that represents what the aim is that we’re going for. Anything less is not acceptable,” he said.

Funding clarified

Paul LaFleche, the deputy minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, attended the meeting on behalf of Leo Glavine, Minister of Communities, Culture and Heritage to answer some questions the councils might have.

He said that the $3 million previously committed by the province is still on the table, and is not tied to any federal contributions.

LaFleche also said that the money isn’t tied to one specific project. He said as long as both councils agree to build something within the theme of hockey culture and recreation, that contribution stands.

“The original announcement by the premier was very conditional and tied to the cultural and heritage piece,” LaFleche said during the meeting. “We are willing to entertain a more flexible contribution between a museum and recreational component of the project. We’re really waiting for you to (present) something to us.”

LaFleche also clarified what was meant as a potential third site option — he said that could include refurbishing an existing facility.

Dale Palmeter, director of issues management in Kings-Hants MP Scott Brison’s office, also attended the meeting and answered some questions regarding federal funding. 

Zebian asked Palmeter why the federal government hasn’t committed any funding or support for the project yet. Palmeter said they’re still waiting for clarity on what the project will be and how it will be funded.

“The federal government is always the last partner to announce funding,” Palmeter said. “We leverage funding from others.”

Palmeter also said that federal funding, if approved, would be capped at one third of the price of the project, which includes gas tax money that the municipalities might want to use.

Corporation amended

Both councils agreed to amend the Hockey Heritage Municipal Corporation, which they discussed in camera before the public portion of the meeting.

One of the aspects of the agreement which says ‘Therefore, the Councils of Windsor and West Hants have agreed that they wish to support the construction of an recreational and cultural facility,’ scratching out the remainder, which read ‘to be located near Long Pond in the Town of Windsor.’

A line in the agreement recognizing the significant effort and expertise brought to the project by the Long Pond Arena Society and Kings-Edgehill School and to keep them involved was crossed out as well.

The management board of the corporation has also been reduced from eight members to six, removing one member from the Long Pond Arena Society and another from KES.

The motion to amend the corporation passed unanimously.

In camera session criticized

Approximately 30 people waited outside council chambers while both councils discussed the municipal corporation during an in camera session. Several residents from both communities said they were frustrated with the process.

Falmouth resident Tom Calkin said it was problematic that residents were sitting and waiting for the in camera meeting to finish, when it should have been held in an open public.

“It has been a prevailing trend, especially in West Hants, to go in camera every time they turn around,” Calkin said. “They use the excuse that it’s under the Municipal Government Act, but in some cases we know that’s not the case. They just want to sort things out and not discuss them publicly.”

David Hunter, who’s also the past president of the Windsor Hockey Heritage Society, said that putting the meeting in camera would only divide the community further than it is already.

“The municipal corporation agreement was formed in public, so if they’re going to talk about it, it should be done in public,” he said. “Don’t hide behind in camera.”

Allen said going in camera was a hard but necessary choice.

“We were disappointed by it too,” Allen said. “The reason for the in camera was that West Hants had made one decision and then because of that we had to discuss it with our council and how we position ourselves with it. That’s in camera information.” 

Allen said they had to discuss the corporation business before having a public meeting, because it could have had major implications on the entire process.

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