Rossland city council has voted to spend $20,000 to $30,000 to keep the city’s ailing arena open for another season.
Council voted for a band-aid solution to the arena’s problems, despite a warning from staff the repairs might not even hold for the year.
The arena was closed in March after a crack appeared in the cooling system’s brine line. While it was not a danger to the public, it meant an end to ice-making at the 80-year-old facility.
Council told staff to look at solutions to the problem, and they came back Monday with five options.
The cheapest was a $20,000 to $30,000 patch-job to replace a component on the brine system; several mid-range options estimated $300,000 to $350,000 to overhaul the existing system; and the most expensive was a $700,000 complete replacement.
The cheapest option, staff warned, could still see the brine system break down mid-season. The most expensive would require borrowing and higher taxes.
The debate quickly boiled down to two options.
Councillor Scott Forsyth moved that the city go with the cheapest option, while a council-appointed committee of citizens look at the longer-term future of the arena.
“Option 1 has the least commitment,” he told his fellow councillors. “The rest are expensive and I don’t want to make that long-term financial commitment.
“I am willing to spend $30,000 with the possibility that we could lose it.”
But the middle option, to effect more complete repairs on the existing system for $300,000 to $350,000, attracted other councillors.
“If we consider the replacement option for $350,000, it gives us a 20-year lifespan, which works out to $17,500 a year,” said Janice Nightingale, noting that even opening up the system for the cheapest, temporary repair may find other costly problems that have to be fixed. “There’s no guarantee that we’ll be able to do the repair without additional repairs and/or finding ourselves back at this table having this discussion again.”
A permanent fix to the arena would also lower operating costs, energy costs, and make it better able to generate revenue.
“I’m not a fan of throwing good money after bad things,” said Chris Bowman, agreeing with Nightingale. “I think investing $20,000 and having the potential of it going down halfway through the season again would prove detrimental to the project. I’m a fan of spending the $350,000 now.”
Councillors mentioned they had already upgraded and improving the facility’s cooling system and roof, and money for the $350,000 overhaul was already set aside in the current capital budget.
“I see replacing the chiller and condenser completely as being the fiscally responsible decision,” added Nightingale. “It can be done with no additional cost to the taxpayer, and we can do that opportunity now.”
But there was another variable councillors wanted to consider. A few months ago council struck an independent citizens committee to look at all the city’s recreation facilities. That committee, which is supposed to set recreation spending priorities for Rossland for years to come, has just started its work. And some councillors didn’t want to interfere with that.
“To spend that kind of money on this facility, when we have committed to go through a process of evaluating its viability in the long run, to spend $350,000… without having input from this committee, without being in a position to make a long-term decision on its viability for the community, I just think that’s really irresponsible,” countered Andy Morel. “I am keen to see the facility operate next year. But I think we need the time to look at this facility and all our facilities.”
Mayor Kathy Moore agreed, saying they shouldn’t undermine the citizen committee’s work.
“We do want to hear what they have to say, we do want to give them time to make sure what we are doing is in the best interest of the community,” she said. “I would just like to see what the task force comes up with.”
Moore noted other major projects, like the museum and Miners’ Hall, saw council spend money on those issues without a great deal of public input.
“All those things, we have been putting money in without having the conversation,” she said. “I think we need to stop and have the conversation. How it goes, I don’t know.”
If workers find hidden problems that push the project past the $30,000 mark, the issue can come back to council to deal with, Moore added.
In the end council voted 4-3 in favour of the short-term fix.
The repairs are slated to be complete by September.