For 42 years, the Wellesley arena has stood, but last month’s decision to close its doors for the 2019-20 season may mean the end for the township facility. The suddenness of the decision came as a surprise for many who attended last week’s council meeting to discuss the next steps for the township, now one arena short.
The problem originated with the arena’s roof, which had been leaking water into the ceiling’s insulation. The added weight of the waterlogged insulation, combined with a heavy snowfall would put portions of the ceiling at risk of falling through, according to an engineer’s report that prompted the closure.
“We’re talking about the roof sheeting, we’re not talking about the girders or the purlins which are the structure of the building,” explained director of recreation Danny Roth. “The concern is it’s continuing to get worse. So another snow-load, it’s going to just continue to get worse, there’s going to be more leaking, that insulation gets wet. That’s where a portion of that can come down. It’s not the steel structure that’s going to fall.”
Ceiling leaks have been an ongoing problem for the arena for years, since at least 2002 when the problem was first detected. At the time, the solution was to apply a laminate coating onto the roof that would keep the water out. The purpose of the coating is to protect the interior structure of the building from the elements, such as water and UV light.
The township was advised to check on the coating again after about 10 years, so in 2013, the township hired engineering firm AECOM to inspect the building again. By this time, the coating was cracking and peeling, and the roof was again leaking in places.
“So in 2013 it was looked at again. They recommended another coating to be put on to cover up some of these leaks,” said Roth. In 2014, a second coating was installed overtop the original. “That coating is the one that’s failing now. And by it failing, it’s delaminating, so it’s peeling off, basically, and there’s cracks in it. So there’s now water getting through the coating that was put on in 2013 … and it’s getting through the roof and saturating the insulation in the building.”
“There have been two recent reports of roof leaks through the high roof,” noted the engineer’s report from 2013, which then goes on to recommend: “Upon review, it was noted that the rood screws were coated with a caulking product. The roof coating system used is now tending to delaminate about each localized caulked area. This condition should be monitored for further deterioration, and if necessary, re-coat at least over the caulked areas.”
In 2014, the entire roof was re-coated. The 2013 report also recommended the township inspect the arena again in five years.
Roth took over the position of director of recreation in January of 2019. Noticing that the five-year period had elapsed, he ordered the inspection, which was completed in the spring of this year.
Between 2013 and 2019, more repair work was done on the arena’s ceiling as leaks appeared and problems emerged. “There has been fixes done in 2014, 2016 and 2018 on that roof,” said Roth. “There had been fixes done over the years.”
However, the fixes proved only temporary for the aging structure.
In 2014, the township also began to lease out roof space on the arena to a solar panel company, receiving an extra revenue stream to pay for arena costs. The engineer’s reports verified, however, that the solar panels were installed to the building’s structure, and had no impact on the roof sheeting.
By the spring of 2019, another inspection was commissioned. The report, also by AECOM, took a much more dire tone. A second opinion was sought from WitzelDyce Engineering, which mostly agreed with AECOM’s assessment.
“The breakdown of the roof coating is serious and needs immediate attention. The integrity of the roof sheeting system is uncertain as the extent of the corrosion is unknown,” reads the 2019 AECOM report. “Due to the sheeting system structurally failing in the past, it is imperative that action is taken immediately. There is also uncertainty regarding how much roof leak moisture is trapped in the existing insulation, increasing the weight on the roof.”
The report cautions that the sheeting on the roof could fail due to excessive water saturation of the arena’s insulation. Coupled with a heavy snowfall, the load could cause part of the roof to fall. It goes on to recommend repair work be completed before the next snowfall in November.
“The existing roofing system needs to be replaced with a new system. This would include roof liner, the roof insulation, and the exterior roof sheeting. This should be done before this winter before snowfalls,” says the report.
Unlike last time, a simple reapplication of the laminate coating would not be enough.
“The coating that was put on there in 2014, it is not recommended to do that a third time because the coating on there is delaminating,” explained Roth. “So if you put another coating such as the one that was put on, it’s adhering to the coating that’s on there. And if it’s already failing, it’s not going to solve your issue. It’s already peeling.”
The stark condition of the roof came as a surprise to many, including Roth himself, who had just recently stepped into the role of director of recreation.
“I was [surprised] too,” he said. “I didn’t think it was going to be as dire of a situation as it was. I knew the roof leaked. I didn’t know that that report was going to come across my desk. But when a report like that comes across your desk, and you have a supportive council, which we do here, they took it very seriously, and public safety was put at the forefront over and over again.”
A copy of the report also went across the desk of the Waterloo Region’s combined insurance pool, which advised of serious liabilities if the arena roof was not secured.
The township is now searching for ways to prolong the use of the arena for at least one more winter. Though the Wellesley council decided to close the arena for 2019-20, the decision could be overturned if a compelling short-term solution is found.
Roth has met with roofing companies to see what can be done, but he cautions nothing has been settled on yet.
“Until we get the actual quotes, I shouldn’t really comment too much because we don’t know what kind of warranty they’re going to offer. We don’t even know if their system is going to work; that’s what they’re trying to figure out,” he said.
“We’re looking at those options. We’re looking at short-term options right now as they come in. A decision had to be made in June because of the time constraints we had at the time. We didn’t feel it was going to be fair to our user groups to make this decision in August.”
While short-term fixes are are being sought at the existing arena, the township is also fielding ideas for a brand new arena from the public.
A committee is being formed of user-groups, such as the numerous hockey and skating organization in the township, and public partners like the Lions Clubs, to design an arena for Wellesley’s future. Provincial and federal funding is also potentially in the offing to aid in the costs of the new arena, though the township will have to act fast to qualify. Up to two-thirds of the cost of a new arena facility could be covered through government grants, if the township can be “shovel-ready” by the fall.
The committee’s chair, Chris Martin, said he was excited to see what would come of the project to build a new arena.
“I think it’s a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make improvements to our community, and provide opportunities that don’t exist right now,” said Martin. “We’re looking ahead over the next 50 years. The failure of the arena has given us to do an opportunity to do something that we may not have thought of doing up until now. So yes, very exciting.”
Martin is the past-president of the Twin Centre Hericanes Girls Hockey, a long-time hockey referee, with three children who have passed through the township’s hockey programs. He notes that even if the Wellesley arena had not been in its current condition, the township would still eventually have to look at building a new arena regardless to replace the aging structure.
The committee is meeting later today (July 18) to decide what they will be hoping to accomplish. Besides coming up with a plan for a new arena, the committee may also look into what other facilities may be added to the arena. That could include the likes of a pool or gymnasium, Martin suggests, though adds the scope of the committee’s work has yet to be worked out.
Residents of the township interested in offering their ideas and input are encouraged to reach out to their appropriate user-group to pitch their ideas. The user-groups will then contribute what they would like to see in the new facility, and what their priorities might be.
The current list of user-groups attached to the committee: Wellesley Fall Fair, Agricultural Society, Wellesley Rec Service Board, Community Care Concepts, Wilmot Family Resource Centre, Wellesley Township Community Health Centre, Wellesley Youth Council, Apple Butter & Cheese Festival, Lions Club, Christmas Tyme in Wellesley, Wellesley Jr. C Applejacks, Wellesley Skating Club, Women’s Rec Hockey, Men’s Rec Hockey, Twin Centre Stars Hockey, Twin Centre Hericanes Girls Hockey and the Wellesley Curling Club.