by Andrew Zwicker on Thursday December 10 2009
Last week’s article and discussion around the Rossland arena raised a number of questions over the project. However, the overwhelming sentiment in the story was that the arena is indeed important to Rosslanders and that something--be it renovations or replacement--should be done to maintain it. Now that Rossland council has turned down a $400,000 grant to replace the roof of the arena, The Telegraph has decided to keep the discussion going over what to do about our arena. This week Andrew Zwicker looks into two other comparable recreational facility projects that have taken place in the Kootenays.
Creston is currently completing construction on their recreation complex which involved a major addition to their existing arena. The first phase of the project (slated for completion in March of 2010) will see new change rooms added to the arena, a new curling floor laid, as well as a new aquatic and fitness center.
The current project has been a long time coming, having originally been started in 1995 when Creston held a referendum on constructing an indoor pool. That referendum failed. In 2004, the issue was revisited and this time Creston took a different plan of attack with the project.
Eventually it comes full circle. Those people who said they have no use for a pool--well, maybe they don't, but their friends and associates and people they rely on for their business or there life do.
Starting first with an information gathering/planning phase, the municipality devised a recreation master plan and conducted a facility assessment to look at what the community used and wanted. From that process, it emerged that the development of a new pool was the number one priority for the community. As part of the master plan, several conceptual developments were put together on what the future could look like for the city's recreation complex. From that point, an operation review was done on the existing arena facility, looking at its internal functionality as well as a full mechanical and electrical assessment. 2006 then also saw a structural review on the existing arena.
Ultimately, the decision to borrow and build new came down to a referendum in 2006 which saw a very large turnout and a clear decision made. Sixty four percent of the population voted on the referendum with 58 percent voting in favour of borrowing 18.2 million dollars for the project.
Getting all of the information on the situation and gathering public input to come up with what best worked for the community was key to getting the referendum passed, according to Joe Cherico, Creston’s manager of recreation at that time.
“I think the main thing is you get all the information together first and don’t one-off anything. We did that well in Creston. I think in the overall process we got all of our ducks in a row. We did an operational review, we did a financial analysis on the cost of the facility, did a recreation master plan which determined the community’s direction. Rather than special interest groups driving the direction, the community as a whole drove the decision-making process. Along with the structural, mechanical and electrical reviews of the facility, we had all of the information we needed and then let the community make the decisions. I think the majority of the community bought into project because we involved them in the process.”
Getting an 18.2 million dollar facility in Creston didn’t come without a cost. The referendum essentially allowed Creston to borrow up to 18.2 million for the project to be recouped through increased taxes. Some areas in that end of the district that hadn’t been paying into the existing facility saw dramatic tax increases as they first had to catch up with the already-paying areas plus add the cost of the new arena to their tax bill.
In 2006, homeowners in Creston were taxed for the two older recreation centers at .83 / 1000 which translates to $83.10 paid per $100,000 in house value. In 2009 they are now paying 1.73/1000 or $173.00 per $100,000 in house value, an increase of slightly over 100%.
Not everyone was happy about the increase in tax rates. Mayor Ron Toyota looks at the project in a broader sense, however, seeing it not just as a recreation expenditure but a community building block.
“Some people are still opposed to this because it meant there taxes went up. The biggest reason you have these facilities is to use them. There are people out there, though, that say 'I’m never going to go swimming. I'm never going to use it so why should I help pay for it?'.
“The other way to look at it, for them especially, if you want to have professionals, doctors, nurses in your community than you need to provide facilities to make it a town that is attractive to them. It’s a domino effect. If you don’t have recreational facilities and amenities to attract professional people, then you don’t have hospitals and schools and new businesses coming to town and so on.
"Eventually it comes full circle. Those people who said they have no use for a pool--well, maybe they don't, but their friends and associates and people they rely on for their business or there life do. It’s important to understand that. We know we’re getting doctors, nurses, teachers coming to our community and business people starting businesses here because we have this very nice facility in our community. You need to look at the overall, unselfish picture. People who are very concerned about taxes going up will almost never vote for this kind of thing, but if they look at it with an open mind they can see that it might attract new people to the area, new customers for them or new people that help them in their life. You know what I mean?”
When asked if he would have done anything different with the benefit of hindsight, Toyota was ready with a reply.
"The design process went really well, but we were just charged with design of the aquatic center. We discovered after we started getting engineering and structural reports that the existing facility had deficiencies. It needed a new roof and there were some structural issues. When we added in those things and started adding up the bill, some people started saying, 'why didn’t we just start from scratch?'.
"That creates a bunch of new issues as well--though if we started fresh, we’d have to use the same property so we’d have to tear it down first and then start construction again and the facility would be down for a long time and out of use. What is happening now is we are attaching the aquatic centre to the existing curling rink and hockey arena. Even though we’re under construction and there is a lot of inconvenience, all the facilities are still open throughout the project. Our target date to open the full facility is March 31st 2010. The outdoor pool will then be demolished and become a parking lot. Last summer, though, during construction of the new pool, the outdoor pool was still in use. If we started fresh, we would have had no swimming, hockey or curling for a number of years.
And does the mayor have any advice for Rossland?
"Rossland has to make the decision now to renovate or go new. We are now down the road of adding on, so we have to live with it and we have discovered engineering faults and we’re hoping we can deal with it in Phase Two and Three because once this pool is open people are going to be very impressed with the facility. Then we have to get out there and make sure the new facilities get used. It’s not a success until they get used enough to justify it.
"In a philosophical way, what is very important is that no we don’t want to see our taxes go up, but if you are going to raise taxes you want to make sure that what the tax dollars are used for is valid and that you get good return and value on your money. That’s I think what happened with this referendum. People understood the importance of having such a facility in our community to set us up for long term growth."
Click here to read our companion piece about Nelson.