Morinville residents call for arena answers
Cost, size, scope, location all still in works, says council
Tuesday, Feb 25, 2014 04:46 pm
Will hockey disappear from Morinville with the closure of the Ray MacDonald Arena? No way, says the town’s mayor, but what it’s new home will look like is still yet to be determined.
About 40 residents came to the Morinville Community Cultural Centre last Feb. 18 for the first of two open houses on the 2014 budget.
The budget, set to go to a second reading this Feb. 25 after the Gazette goes to press, proposes some $12.2 million in operational spending and a four per cent tax increase – equivalent to $75 for the average homeowner.
It also includes $1 million in capital spending for a new arena/recreation complex.
Town council voted last December to replace the Ray McDonald Sports Centre after it learned it would need about $4.15 million in repairs to last much beyond 2015.
The $1 million is for the initial design and prep work for the new arena, said town chief administrative officer Debbie Oyarzun. The final cost of the arena has been pegged at about $10 million.
The town plans to have the arena open by fall 2015 in time for the 2015-2016 hockey season, Oyarzun said. Other bits, such as a concession or running track, could be added later.
Resident John Vreugdenhil told council that he was concerned about the lack of information available about the new arena.
“Nobody knows where it’s going to be yet, whether it’s going to include a recreational facility, what the total amount is going to be, or how much our taxes are going to go up,” he said.
He was also concerned about cost overruns, recalling how the recent renovations of St. Germain Place went about $722,647 over its original budget.
“If something like that happens with a new arena being built … how long is Morinville going to go without hockey?”
Many of these questions were summed up in an anonymous flyer distributed at local sports facilities over the Family Day weekend.
The blue postcard-sized flyers feature a drawing of a hockey player in a Swedish uniform under the heading “No More Hockey In Morinville? What a sad possibility.”
Warning that “The Ray McDonald Sports Centre Will Soon Close Down,” the flyer questions the town’s plans for the new arena. “Will Morinville just do without ice for years?”
It asks residents to talk to council about the project. “Let’s not go a single month without our wonderful ICE!”
The whole town is swirling with rumours, and town council has not done enough to quell them, said prominent local volunteer Murray Knight.
“When are the mayor and council going to involve the 8,500 residents (of Morinville), bring all the facts forward and involve taxpayers before they tie us into a tax increase and maybe a facility we do not want?”
Many questions, few answers
The only decision council has made at this point is to look into replacing the arena, Mayor Lisa Holmes said.
“Where it’s going to be, what it’s going to look like, who we’re going to partner with, how much to invest – none of that has been decided.”
That’s because council decided to get its budget out of the way before focusing on the arena, Holmes said. Council did a lot of the preliminary work for this project last year when it did its multi-use recreation facility strategy, she noted.
Little about said strategy has been released, however, as it involves a short-list of potential sites for a new arena – not all of which the town currently owns. The document lists a number of questions and procedures the town should follow if it decides to pursue a multi-use recreational facility.
Holmes said the town planned to meet with key arena users this March to discuss the new arena and to hold open houses on it in April.
“We plan on having answers very quickly because we have a very aggressive timeline.”
Oyarzun said the town has several sites in mind for the arena, including the park that houses the Ray McDonald arena.
The Ray McDonald would remain open until the new one was ready, Oyarzun said. If this didn’t happen by 2015, council would have to pay for minor (i.e. less than $4.1 million) repairs to keep the Ray McDonald operational until the new one was complete.
“We wouldn’t miss hockey season,” she added.
The town has done an extensive engineering study of the Ray McDonald and is confident it will last until its replacement is ready, Holmes said.
“I, as mayor, would not keep a facility open that I was concerned about, and I’m not concerned about the arena.”
While the Ray McDonald does have asbestos in it, Oyarzun said it was sealed in the walls and would not be released unless it was renovated or demolished.
“The people are not exposed to asbestos in using the arena.”
Demolition would be done by a firm certified to handle asbestos, Oyarzun said. She planned to bring a cost estimate for demolition to council shortly.
The town should have the new arena’s design and price nailed down by this summer, Oyarzun said. Council was set to meet with Sturgeon County next month to discuss regional funding for it.
Holmes dismissed claims that hockey would disappear from town as “sensationalism” and unfounded. “We’re excited to replace the arena, and that’s going to happen.”
The budget goes for second reading this Feb. 25. Council will hold a public hearing on it that same night.