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In the house: grant application letter of support to save the curling centre’s future considered by council

Timothy Schafer Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
By Timothy Schafer Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
February 22nd, 2023

The city is going into extra ends to ensure two grant applications land on the button and both the municipality and the curling centre are in the house when the federal funds are handed out.

City council approved waiving a city policy of not granting a letter of support for a conflicting grant — for a Nelson Curling Centre grant application — with the proviso that the city’s manager confirm there was no risk to a simultaneous application by the city to the same grant stream, or that it wouldn’t waive the policy if an engineer would sign off on an annual inspection of the centre’s ice plant instead.

After the Nelson Curling Centre applied in earnest to the city recently for a letter of support for the mandated capital equipment upgrades to its ice plant — for an application to the Green and Inclusive Community Buildings (GICB) grant program — it was told the city had a policy to not support two grants in the same stream.

The curling centre had been working on the GICB application for about a month, with city knowledge, and committed $8,500 to Polar Engineering for engineering work and assistance in meeting the grant requirements. The city was applying to GICB for a multi-million dollar grant to upgrade the Civic Centre’s infrastructure.

Although far less than the city’s grant application in dollar value, said Kristina Little, on behalf of the Nelson Curling Centre board of directors, the curling centre’s application was no less vital.

“This grant is the best chance we have for opening in the fall of 2023,” she said at the Feb. 17 city council meeting. “The curling centre cannot apply for this grant without the City of Nelson’s support because of the city’s ownership of our building.

“The GICB grant stream allows multiple applications, and for the city to retract its initial support in favour of another, similar non-profit organization, simply due to a policy, is to be putting up unnecessary roadblocks.”

Supporting both, or numerous applications, takes no extra effort and has no cost to the city, she added, since the GICB was a flexible grant that allowed municipalities to apply for numerous projects in the same year.

City manager Kevin Cormack agreed with Little.

“We’ve had some discussion as staff and I don’t think this (curling centre application) would detract from ours,” he said.

But Coun. Rik Logtenberg thought there was an avenue that needed to be explored before approving a letter. He quoted from an email written to council by Coun. Keith Page — who could not attend the Feb. 17 meeting — who also served as the chair of Recreation Commission 5 that governed recreation matters in the city, including the curling centre.

“’The crux of the curling conversation is the time pressure from the city to have the ice plant upgraded by next season. As it stands, the (condensers) are end of life and have been for many years and they have been pressure tested and deemed safe for this season,’” Logtenberg read.

With the pending recreation campus review and the potential opportunity to merge the centre’s ice plant into the Nelson and District Community Complex (NDCC) in 2025/26 there was an unnecessary conflict between the grant applications, he added.

“Paying a few grand and get (the condensers) pressure-tested before each season may be a reasonable stop-gap measure,” Logtenberg explained, adding it would allow the city, regional district and the community to merge the operations, as well as give the curling centre time to raise the funds to renew its plant if it was not relocated into the NDCC.

“It sounds like, from Coun. Page, that there is a path forward: just keep investing on a year-to-year basis on the (condenser) to clean and do what’s necessary on the current plant,” he said. “And then that gives everybody a chance to complete the planned rec. commission (review) and then by 2025/26, hopefully, there is one plant between the two buildings and we have got a best case scenario.”

He suggested not to put forward the letter of support from the city and risk losing a big grant for the city over a smaller one, if the GICB were to only choose one application from Nelson.

However, there is ammonia in the curling centre’s condenser, said Cormack, which could pose a significant health and safety risk if it began to leak. He pointed to fatalities related to faulty condensers and an ammonia leak in Fernie last year as an example.

“I know our facilities manager is not comfortable with operating more than this one year, and that is based on discussions with folks that have been looking at that plant,” he said. “It was strong push back that it was not an option.”

Cormack said he would rather the city listen to the word of its facilities manager than the chair of the rec. commission.

Mayor Janice Morrison said the curling centre in Nelson was nearly closed last year as a result of the condenser’s age.

“I heard a clear statement from our facilities manager that they wanted a one year only opportunity. So it’s unfortunate that councillor Page isn’t here if he’s got other expert opinions that need to be brought forward, because the facilities manager has made his decision based on” expert evidence, she said.

If the curling centre had the option to pressure test the condenser each year to keep it going until the ice plant could be incorporated into the NDCC, it would be ideal, said Little.

“If we could buy ourselves another three or four years to get to that point … we would love that,” she said. “(The facilities manager) has made it clear that this is not an option whatsoever, based on the information he has from the refrigeration company.”

Coun. Jesse Woodward asked Cormack what the liability risks to the city would be if it did pursue a year-over-year course of action on the condenser.

“Where would that put us?” he asked.

“If our facility manager is on record and recommends against that based on a recommendation from a refrigeration expert in this area and we ignore that, and put people in harm’s way and we have a fatality or something, I would say we would be at significant liability risk,” Cormack replied.

He said the city would need an engineer to sign off on the condenser that it was safe for future use before annual re-testing and renewal could be considered as an option.

“Because right now we have the opposite,” he said. “And we are talking about something we know is a life risk, and has been in the past. We are not talking about the equipment breaking down and you don’t have ice for a year, you are talking about the potential of a fatality.”

Logtenberg made a motion to refer the matter back to staff — and to have time for Coun. Page to weigh in — despite a Feb. 27 deadline for grant applications.

“In my mind, the Civic Centre is one we have been pushing at for quite some time and it is so critical that we get that grant to make the enormous investment in improving that building,” he said. “So anything we do to risk that grant is not prudent for the taxpayer, at all. The reason for going against our policy does not seem all there.”

However, upon further discussion, the motion to refer and delay the matter was withdrawn, with council eventually approving the recommendation, with provisos.

In the house

The curling centre is finding new ways to be innovative and grow, said Little in her letter to city council.

Over the last year there has been a 45 per cent increase in member revenue, a 165 per cent increase in food and beverage revenue and a 285 per cent increase in rental revenue.

The Curling Centre has become busy every week, hosting league play, business and private rentals, bonspiels and school groups.

In the last two years the Curling Centre has become “a staple” in the winter activity program for many of Nelson’s elementary and middle school students, said Little, with requests from 19 different classes, each wanting multiple dates of curling booked.

Source: Nelson Curling Centre

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