A new arena is closer to construction after city council voted unanimously to set aside nearly $20 million for it over the next three years.
That’s wonderful news, said Joe Becigneul, secretary of the St. Albert Minor Hockey Association.
The association spends about $450,000 every year to rent ice surfaces outside of the city because demand for rinks in St. Albert is so high, he said.
“And as the city grows … it’s becoming tougher and tougher to accommodate,” he said.
Council voted on Thursday to include the sixth arena ice surface in its 10-year capital plan and to allocate $50,000 in its 2016 budget toward the planning phase of the project.
It also voted on a preliminary amount of $1,771,400 for the 2017 budget and $17,714,000 in 2018.
Mayor Nolan Crouse told council that the community will be well-served by this decision and “this puts our money to where I believe the next community priority is.”
“We’ve heard loud and clear and not only have we heard it but we also feel it, sense it, that this is in equal priority to the library,” he said.
“And I believe what we should be doing is just exactly what the community is asking for and what minor hockey is asking for.”
A week prior to the vote, Gill Hermanns, president of the association, had asked councillors to at least consider funding two extra sheets of practice ice.
He said St. Albert Minor Hockey is the largest stand-alone hockey association west of Toronto, with 1,800 members representing 1,400 families and 100 teams, and growing.
It’s also one of three major ice users in the community, sharing space with the St. Albert Ringette Association and figure skating.
Between the three, and regular daytime use of the ice surfaces increasing, the association now has to rent space outside of the city to accommodate practice hours.
It also shares the ice for tournaments and that limits the number of events the city can host in a year, he said.
“All we need is ice with dressing rooms and a shell over it,” he said.
“I know the city has a number of demands for facilities, not only from us … but to us the ice is important so we can continue our program.”
Administration will now begin the planning phase for the arena, which includes looking at possible locations.
During Thursday’s meeting, council had also approved to set aside funding for a new branch library and Crouse had suggested the two could possibly go together.
In a later interview, he told the Gazette that the proposal may be greeted with some resistance and he would prefer to use land near Servus Place for the arena.
The city owns land next to the facility but also across the road from it.
“It’s several acres and we’ve had it on the market to sell it but I will be asking to take that off the market and that would be an opportunity for at least one arena, maybe two, in the future,” he said.
Hermanns was not available for an interview this week and Becigneul said he would have to see the plans before making any comment about sharing space with the library.
But he would be worried about “overbuilding,” he said.
He added that in the past he had proposed adding another ice rink surface to Servus Place.
The facility already has three sheets of ice and “there is an awful lot of land there, there is an awful lot of parking there,” he said.
“It opens the door to other events, national tournaments and potentially international tournaments where you have four sheets of ice under one roof,” he said.