Follow through on committee recommendations for Central Park 0
On Monday night, Collingwood Town Council will make the biggest decision of its term, and certainly one of the biggest decisions for the community's recreation needs in a generation.
On the one hand, a recommendation to explore the funding opportunities for a $35-million multi-use recreational facility at Central Park, devised by a steering committee that spent 10 months consulting stakeholders and the community.
On the other, a $10-million idea to erect a fabric structure over Centennial Pool to turn it into a year-round facility, and another fabric structure over a second ice surface beside the existing outdoor rink at Central Park — plus upgrades to Eddie Bush Memorial Arena to make it a seasonal facility.
The former option would see a double rink with community space, tied into the existing curling club and the Collingwood YMCA – and include a new 25-metre, six-lane competition-ready pool. Based on the numbers arrived at by the Central Park steering committee, it would also be $200,000 cheaper to run than existing facilities over its first five years of operation.
The operating costs for the double rink component alone, says the committee, would be $70,000 less than the Eddie Bush and the outdoor rink – annually.
The latter option? Well, that we don’t know, because the numbers — and the idea itself — have not been put out for the same level of public scrutiny. We do know Centennial Pool, which operates three months a year, runs at an approximate $30,000 loss to taxpayers. We would also be taking an 'outdoor' facility and making it an 'indoor' pool — possibly without consideration for a host of issues, including how the pool tank would react to having water in it during the winter months — and essentially be going into competition with the Y for aquatics, rather than the current state of maintaining a complementary facility during the summer months.
The outdoor rink costs taxpayers about $100,000 annually, and it’s open about four months a year.
The Eddie Bush was budgeted to lose about $100,000 in 2012.
At issue for councillors has been the $35 million price tag for the plan devised by the steering committee for Central Park. However, the steering committee has never indicated the municipality would be solely responsible for the entire cost, and has urged council to follow through on the recommendation to undertake a 'market sounding' — essentially, to explore whether there is funding from upper levels of government, or interest within the private sector to potentially be a partner.
A citizens’ group – the Friends of the Collingwood Central Park Project – is also lobbying council to undertake that work. Ameresco, a company that specializes in working with the public sector on green energy projects tied to public buildings, has signalled its interest to work with the town on this project.
Council has already balked at hiring a consultant to undertake a market sounding at a cost of $40,000 — or .1% of the entire project cost.
Councillors have also expressed reticence at covering the Y’s operating losses for the aquatic centre component; a $60,000 loss was projected for its first year, decreasing to a $30,000 loss in year 2. A modest operating profit was predicted by the fifth year.
And finally, we come to the issue of the Eddie Bush Memorial Arena. There has been much sentimentality about the 65-year-old building expressed around the council table, and concern has been raised about the implications of closing down a facility which is an economic driver for the downtown.
However, the steering committee is not saying to close it, but explore ways to keep the facility a vibrant piece of the downtown — just not as a rink.
To not close it down based on sentimentality is illogical, and not financially responsible; let's not forget, the Montreal Forum, home to 23 championship seasons of the Montreal Canadiens, has been converted to other uses. The storied Maple Leaf Gardens is now a grocery store.
We can find another use for the Eddie Bush. However, we'll never know, unless council takes the step to start following through on the recommendations of the steering committee.
On the one hand, council could spend $40,000 — or nothing, and have municipal staff do the work — to find out whether or not money is out there, and if there are alternative uses for the Eddie Bush. The way it was originally proposed, this work would take two or three months.
On the other, the town can spend $10 million — at minimum — with a host of unknown operating expenses that could ultimately, over a decade, cost taxpayers almost as much as the Central Park Steering Committee was proposing to spend on a multi-use facility. And, at the end, we would still have a 75-year-old arena, and a 55-year-old pool.
To go in another direction at this stage, without giving the public an opportunity to review and reflect, does not represent a fair and transparent process. It is in the town's best interests — and the most fiscally-responsible option — that council return to the course it approved in principle in the spring, and explore whether the Central Park facility is feasible before considering alternatives.
Do you agree with the Friends of the Central Park Project, that council should move ahead with the recommendations of the steering committee?