Building a new facility is the most likely follow-up to the township’s decision to close the Wellesley arena due to safety concerns, with councillors moving in that direction Tuesday night.
The township will spend up to $150,000 to design a new arena, planning to have the project ready to go should federal and provincial funding become available to build a new rink in the village. In a split decision, with residents crammed into council chambers, councillors adopted a staff recommendation to plan for a new building on parkland at Queen’s Bush and Hutchison roads.
The deliberations followed last week’s announcement the township was closing the arena for the 2019-20 season because the deteriorating state of the roof meant it could collapse. That news was met with widespread disappointment in the community, particularly among user groups such as the minor hockey association and Wellesley Applejacks that were left scrambling to find alternatives before the fall.
Facing a repair bill of some $600,000 to shore up the roof of the existing arena, councillors by a 3-2 margin decided a new facility, though much more costly, would be the better option to pursue.
“We have to build for the future. We just can’t throw money away right now, and that’s exactly what we’d be doing if we started patching up this arena,” said Mayor Joe Nowak.
Repairing the roof was one of four suggestions put forward by staff along with the new building at a new location. The other two options were building a new arena on the current site or simply running with just the one arena in St. Clements.
Council ultimately decided to look into a new site, allocating up to $150,000 in federal gas-tax revenues be used to design and engineer a new structure. With a plan in place, the township would be “shovel ready” should senior government money become available, a status that would boost its chances of receiving funding.
“No funding opportunity is guaranteed – to be able to apply for the funding, we would need this step that we’re asking for tonight, to start the process,” noted recreation director Danny Roth.
While moving down that path, Coun. Peter van der Maas cautioned Tuesday night’s decision didn’t mean the township would be building a new arena.
“The proposal is that we approve spending. It does not obligate us to spend anything,” he said.
To move ahead, outside funding from Ottawa and Queen’s Park – typically covering about two-thirds of the capital costs – would be necessary. In speaking with Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Mike Harris, the township learned there will be a fall intake for recreation funding for shovel-ready projects, Roth noted in his report to council.
Light on details and commitments, this week’s decision didn’t satisfy many of those in attendance. The closure of the arena has left many user groups scrambling for alternatives.
David Dienesch, president of the Twin Centre Minor Hockey Association, told councillors that while he respected the decision to close the arena, that there was an overall lack of clarity throughout the entire process and how it will affect Wellesley residents.
“This decision to close Wellesley arena, without a plan to repair or refurbish, impacts more than just the Twin Centre Minor Hockey Association,” said Dienesch. “There’s disappointment that there was no foresight or planning ahead that included a budget for the roof repair in Wellesley, whether based on useful life or when possible repairs would need to be made it keep it in operational condition.”
The steel structure, built in 1977, has had a number of maintenance issues over the years, with the roof being particularly problematic. Leaking first became an issue around 2002, with more involved repairs carried out in 2007 and 2013. The roof got another coating in 2014, but it started to leak again in 2016.
“It’s just been one issue after another, and the roof is just continuing to deteriorate,” said Roth.
He noted staff is still looking at all possible solutions, short-term and long-term, in regards to keeping the arena open for the 2019/2020 season.
“One thing I will disclose is since the last meeting, we have had companies reach out to us with what they’re calling short-term options. We are investigating all those options that come our way. If there is a viable option that comes our way that our engineer is on board with, that is something we could bring back to council,” said Roth.
“I don’t want to get anyone’s hopes up with that because we haven’t found a viable option yet.”
Chris Martin, a Wellesley resident and past president of the Twin Centre Hericanes, indicated the arena user groups could be part of the solution.
“When I heard about the arena in Wellesley being closed, I thought I’d take an initiative to gather the user groups together, make it a grassroots effort to see if we can pull together a consensus of the user groups on a path forward,” said Martin.