Infrastructure Program Offers 73% Funding — MNBP Council Chooses Arena Reno

    By John Francis

    On September 6, the Municipality of Northern Bruce Peninsula received a media release from our Member of Provincial Parliament. The banner headline on the release said: “MPP Walker announces opening of Community, Culture and Recreation stream of infrastructure funding”. The attached documentation specifies an application deadline of November 12, 2019.

    The grant structure would be 40% federal contribution, 33.33% provincial contribution and 26.67% municipal contribution. Council has three meetings (Sept 23, Oct 15, Oct 28) between receiving the announcement and the deadline for applications. The Agenda for the September 23 Council Meeting included a 32-page CAO Report on the grant opportunity. Here is the CAO’s summary:

    “The Province recently opened a new grant stream specifically for community, culture and recreation. A quote from the Minister, Laurie Scott, reads “Community centres, cultural centres and recreational infrastructure are exactly the types of investments that make a difference in the daily lives of people across Ontario.“

    The Municipality has two (2) projects that have undergone public consultation and have had preliminary discussions/concepts completed:

    The Lion’s Head Community Centre

    This facility and possible upgrades have been considered for over a decade.

    Originally, a group was formed called the “Community Centre and Arena Network Group” and consultations were undertaken and recommendations were presented.

    These recommendations included improving barrier free access, the construction of an auditorium for performances, a multipurpose space, wellness and senior spaces and consideration for a library. The Municipality’s Parks and Recreation Plan also identified this project as a major priority.

    There are three (3) options at the Lion’s Head Community Centre to consider:

    a) Relocation of the change rooms from the basement to the west side of the building at the same grade as the ice surface removing accessibility barriers that currently exist. The cost for this project is estimated at $1,300,000.

    b) Relocation of the change rooms, add accessible washrooms, create fitness room and incorporate the library. Note that no discussions to date with Bruce County Library staff have occurred regarding relocation of the library, although the assumption is that they would be very supportive. The cost for this project is estimated at $3,400,000.

    c) Includes everything in option “a” and “b”, plus additional washrooms, seniors’ space, change rooms for a fitness area, new foyers and large community auditorium and stage with seating for approximately 180 persons. The cost of this project is estimated at $4,600,000.

    With Options “b” and “c”, it is likely that septic system relocation or upgrades will be required at an additional $100,000 to $150,000. A new parking lot will also need to be considered; costs are to be determined.

    Rotary Hall

    The Rotary Hall renovations were a priority of the previous Council. Therefore, public meetings were held, decision alternatives were created and the project was tendered twice due to tenders coming in over budget. The main goal of the renovation was to improve accessibility and efficiency of the facility. Renovations included the relocation of the kitchen to the main floor, a new accessible front entrance, new fully accessible washrooms, additional storage, performers change rooms and the relocation of the bar area to increase seating area for performances. This project is now estimated at $900,000.

    Based on the grant criteria, I believe that all the projects discussed above meet all of the grant criteria. Any of the above projects will benefit the community.

    The Municipality is required to contribute 27% of project costs to any of the project submissions listed above. That portion can be taken from reserves, budgeted in upcoming budgets, borrowed or any combination of the above.

    Based on the outcome of today’s discussions, Staff will contact the architect and commence work on the grant submission.”

    Councillor Smoky Golden pointed out that MNBP would still need to fund close to 30% of the hefty costs of these projects. CAO Bill Jones noted that the municipality’s portion of the $3.4 million for option b — a million or less — could be borrowed and repaid over 20 years and that the building would remain useful well beyond that time frame. He stressed the importance of upgrading the change rooms to make them accessible. CAO Jones also mentioned that he had been recently approached by the Friends of the (Lion’s Head) Library who are concerned that the library facility does not offer enough space. 

    Councillor Megan Myles was concerned that a community consultation process must happen before any decision is made about grant applications. She said she had made an effort to get some feedback about the two projects and that sentiment was mixed. Many defend the Rotary Hall as the community’s centre for arts and culture and wonder if it could be used as a library? She admitted that the arena upgrade seemed more urgent now, with VON SMART classes totally packed and the advancing age of the Friendship Club building (next door to the arena). She wondered about offices for community groups, youth concerns, potential partners, the possibility of a carbon-neutral facility. Would the Asset Management Plan process currently underway have any effect on the suitability of the project? CAO Jones replied that the AMP would neither support nor hinder the application.

    Councillor Golden asked about cost overruns, noting that tenders had been coming in at “about double” the expected costs. CAO Jones noted that the cost estimates had been updated recently by the engineers. Councillor Golden asked if the grants would expand if costs ballooned? No, they would not.

    FOTL (Friends of the Library)  would want to discuss whether the library should be relocated at the Rotary Hall rather than the arena.

    Some members of the Friends of the Library were in the audience. Council had some questions for them. They noted that the library has barely enough room for books with nothing for other activities. Anyone wanting to hold a meeting, including the FOTL themselves, has to ask the Fire Department for the use of their committee room. The county (who fund the library system and pay MNBP rent for the facility) are aware of the inadequate space. Put simply, the library needs more program and meeting space. FOTL have not had a chance to meet since the funding program was announced. FOTL would want to discuss whether the library should be relocated at the Rotary Hall rather than the arena. They will discuss this at their Sept 27 meeting. 

    “We were surprised too,” replied Mayor Milt McIver. “The grant program came out without warning.” He stressed that there is no guarantee that an MNBP grant application will be accepted.

    Councillor Myles asked if Bruce County would be willing to contribute, either to the capital cost or through increased rent payments. Mayor McIver thought it unlikely that the county would contribute to capital costs but was reasonably certain they would be willing to pay more rent for more space. “Libraries are becoming more important by the year,” he continued. An FOTL member summed it up: “Fifty years ago a library was a place where you went in, got a book and left”. Now there is much more on offer but it needs more space.

    Councillor Myles wondered how long it would take to line up a public meeting. Would it be better to just solicit public input? CAO Jones stated that MNBP would need to retain an architect in order to get plans in place for the Nov 12 deadline; it is difficult to get this done quickly. Public consultation could be done after the grant application is submitted. It would be hard to do it first and still get the application ready in time.

    Mayor McIver agreed that it was time to consider upgrades at one or both of these facilities.

    Mayor McIver agreed that it was time to consider upgrades at one or both of these facilities. He agreed that a long amortization period was a viable option. He prefers the arena (to the Rotary Hall) because of the number of different needs it would address. He pointed out that this is an unusually good program — 73% funding is rarely seen these days. He agreed that the library would be better downtown, but… He looked around the room.

    Councillor Myles agreed that the Community Centre offers “things we don’t already have”. She stressed the importance to parents of having other activities (library, fitness room, etc.) while their kids are practicing at the rink.

    She [Councillor Golden] feels that accessibility is important and notes that “You can’t even get a wheelchair up to the main level”. That should be a priority.

    Councillor Golden, a longtime hockey mom, pointed out that “I have spent a lot of time at arenas”. She feels that accessibility is important and notes that “You can’t even get a wheelchair up to the main level”. That should be a priority.

    “Do we have a consensus?” asked Mayor McIver. “Option b,” said Councillor Jamie Mielhausen; others nodded. Councillor Golden stressed the need to be careful — what is the long term cost to maintain these facilities? Councillor Mielhausen asked how this option would affect other facilities. CAO Jones replied that the big room would stay, the basement would become storage space and none of the new features would overlap with the existing uses at the Rotary Hall.

    The motion to pass option b was unanimous. 

    HISTORICAL NOTE: These two projects were discussed intensively by the 2014-18 MNBP Council. They decided not to proceed on the arena improvements but someone — probably Councillor Tom Boyle — pointed out that Council’s time was not wasted. “It’s never a bad idea to have a couple of shovel-ready projects in the queue — grants programs often come up quickly.”