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Studying both proposed arena sites could add almost $250,000 to the project cost

'I want to have more data. And yes $250,000 is a lot of money, but it is a $30 million project. We only have one chance to do it right' Community Services Chair Johanne Brousseau

North Bay City Council will vote next week on a recommendation to hire an architectural and engineering firm to study both the Memorial Gardens and Steve Omischl Sports Complex sites to determine the best location for a new municipal arena.

The recommendation put forward by the community services committee comes at a cost.

“To look at both sites, for building purposes it is going to add almost $250,000 to the project,” said Ian Kilgour, director of Community Development and Growth.

“The report states environmental work, geotechnical work, traffic impact study, and parking study at both sites and then you start designing the building.”

The chair of the community services committee admits it is costly but thinks it's necessary work.

“I want to have more data. And yes $250,000 is a lot of money, but it is a $30 million project. We only have one chance to do it right. And I want to be able to sleep well at night, knowing that I did my due diligence and I got all the data that is required to make a fact-based decision,” said Johanne Brousseau.

She says data collected will not go to waste.

“Assuming we go to Omischl, we know we have parking and traffic issues with Memorial Gardens. We’ll have all the information now that we can use to address those problems or put in a capital project and we’ll know how to fix it. We’ll have a plan.”

The study will also delay the project for roughly four more months.

“Depending on council’s decision next week, we’ll put out a request for proposal (RFP). It will take us the best part of two months by the time we get an architecture and engineering firm. Then they will get started on their work this summer, and they will come to council with their information in the fall, with the costs for both sites,” explained Kilgour.

At that point, council will make its site selection, with a construction start up the following year.   

“You have to award the contract which will probably be in late in December, and then shovels in the ground in the spring or summer of 2020,” said councillor Dave Mendicino who said he needed more information on cost.

Kilgour says city council is facing a big decision in building a new arena to serve residents for the next 40 to 45 years.

“That is why we want to provide all the information. The previous council ran out of time to make a decision. We all heard that. It wasn’t intentional, it was just the election cycle of the province of Ontario,” said Kilgour.

“Both sites have pros and cons. Obviously, the Omischl site will be easier. It’s like building a new house on a greenfield site as opposed to the Gardens. We’ll be working around existing operating facilities. So that said, there’s five new councillors and the community services committee wants to see these pluses and minuses flushed out.”

In dealing with financial strategies, there is hope for senior government funding.

“One of the things that’s coming in our favour, and this is key, is that the senior levels of government funding for arenas only comes around every decade, and we’re supposed to hear an announcement in late summer or early fall that senior levels of government will likely be coming to the table, and of course that is a huge impact,” said Kilgour.

“If the municipality qualifies, it could reduce the cost by as much as two-thirds, if all the stars align and our application is received and approved. And that was what was key about getting this update done because now we’re application ready.”

Councillor Mark King who chaired the original arena selection committee said he is “frustrated” by the process.

“I think it is a waste of money quite frankly. It is $250,000 worth of money that we could use to do the site prep on Omischl. Simple as that.”

Councillor Bill Vrebosch will be putting forward an amendment to the community services recommendation at next Tuesday’s council meeting.

“My amendment next week will be to take Omischl and get it done. Let’s get this thing off the ground. I think they already know the one site. I think there’s a quarter million dollars that is going to be wasted here to get the same thing done. They already have the information,” said Vrebosch.

“I have a reason for the Omischl site. The fact is I think it will make for the centralization of a lot of activities. You can put walking trails in there, you can put skating trails in the winter. You have all the parking you need now, and you don’t need the second access out of North Bay because you already have the by-pass. If I’m coming down the bypass, in 10 minutes I’m at Omischl, so don’t tell me it is going to take too long to get there from the other end of North Bay. West Ferris is part of North Bay.”

Deputy Mayor Tanya Vrebosch says doing a study on one pre-selected location saves both time and money.  

“They just said by looking at two sites, we’re prolonging it by four months, and it is going to cost us $250,000 to do the two studies rather than one. The benefit if we choose one location now is, we start sooner, and we save money,” said Vrebosch.

 “I think this is completely a political decision. It almost seemed as if it was being put on staff to say it was their report, and it was their decision to bring this to council. They’re doing it based on the political will of council, because there is pressure being put on, to go to two locations,” said the deputy mayor.    

“It was mentioned tonight that it is going to cost more to go to the Gardens. So that right there takes out money from the amenities that we would have in the community centre. So why would I spend more to lose amenities? I want this thing to be not a rink in a box, I want it to be a community centre that everyone can use. There is no big ‘aha’ moment when somebody says you need to put it here because you will get this, or this is the amazing thing about putting it there. Even if I take my preference for Ferris out of it, if you put it at Omischl, I’ll get more for my money. So why waste the money? Why waste the time? Let’s get going.”  

The evening began with Steve Langlois Principal Planner Monteith-Brown planning consultants, highlighting his update on the 2013 MURF (multi-use recreational facility) report.

The updated study was to determine if the city did, in fact, need a double pad arena to replace the West Ferris arena.

Despite concerns about having an aging population, the study confirmed that the city needed 4.8 ice pads.   

“The projection work that we used for this report spoke to modest growth over a long-term period in the city. And it gave us strong confidence that the demand will be sustained over time,” said Langlois.

“We looked at a 20 to 30-year period for the population work.”

Langlois told council there is a lot of new information relative to arena trends, which was reflected in the update.

“Anything from new participation rates for ice hockey, competitive hockey, ringette, figure skating and that has a real impact moving forward on arena needs,” said Langlois.

“Think beyond the rink. They’re looking for bang for their buck as it relates to municipal infrastructure. So making sure that not just an arena, certainly that would meet the needs of the ice community, but also looking to expand those needs more broadly to other ages and year-round through different types of support spaces. Even something like a walking and running track makes it much more flexible and useful to residents of all ages.”

The planning consultant said communities are dealing with changing design standards when it comes to arenas.

“Larger ice pads that are configured to an NHL size ice pad, larger and more change rooms to consider the needs of all genders, and those multi-use recreation spaces are all necessary for modern facilities in today’s day and age,” said Langlois.

Brousseau said with five new councillors who weren’t part of the original process, it is important that they have all the information they need to make an informed decision on site selection.