As you know, recreational and cultural services in Pelham was at a log-jam for decades. Numerous consultant reports outlined great desires and drew nice designs of community centres. However, none evaluated the operating costs nor tested the business case. It was like those former reports offered a shiny new sports car but failed to account for operating costs and whether the community could afford to drive it.
To help break the impasse, the Town hired Leisureplan International to develop a market analysis and business case study.
Despite the desire – which still continues today – LeisurePlan recommended against including an indoor pool. They stated that demand for an indoor pool was only at 50% of that required to financially support it. This lack of sustaining demand makes sense because there are three indoor pools 5, 10 and 15 minutes from the Meridian Community Centre – at the Niagara Centre YMCA, Welland Wellness Centre, and Brock University.
LeisurePlan reported “To be financially viable, a significant annual operating subsidy would be required from the Municipality in the order of $1,000,000 per year.” This is in line with other municipal pools; the Kiwanis Aquatic Centre in in St. Catharines, for example, costs $1.6 million net per year (expenses $2.36 million; revenues $734K).
An extra $1 million for an indoor pool would mean about a 9% increase in property taxes for the average residential property, plus another 3% for financing the construction costs. Obviously, Council did not include a pool in the Centre.
There are still some questioning the need for a double arena.
While LeisurePlan initially estimated that a second arena wouldn’t be financially sustainable until 2023, arena users questioned the completeness of that data and the Architectural Design Advisory Committee struggled with the feasibility of a phased design. LeisurePlan considered the missing information and concluded in June 2015 that “a second ice pad would be utilized 69%-77% during prime time” and recommended providing a second ice pad by 2018. In July 2015, Council agreed with that recommendation and directed that the design include two arenas.
It’s a good thing we did because we will exceed those demand projections for the second ice pad. The Town signed binding five-year usage agreements with local minor hockey and figure skating associations to use 100% of the Accipiter Arena and more than 90% of the Duliban Insurance Arena during prime time. (And the ice is currently being used in the Duliban; Staff plan to get the ice in the Accipiter once Lacrosse season ends this month.)
Twinning Haist Arena:
As the Town is currently decommissioning it, some folks have asked by whether the former Arena on Haist Street was ever built to be twinned.
We know that this Arena did not meet the Building Code when it was constructed; that’s why the brick cracked and the Town had to spend $120,000 to reinforce the arena walls a few years ago. And, we know that the Town scrimped on the construction in the 1970s – shrinking both the ice surface and changeroom size. Yet, this rumour prevails…
So, about four years ago, I asked a building official to examine the original plans for the Haist Street Arena to see if they gave any hints on the potential for twinning. The plans showed no indication of twinning – like you might do with hatching or marking an area “for future expansion.” Further, and more telling, had the structure been twinned, the fire / emergency exits on the East or West sides of the building would have exited right into a second rink.
Reflecting on these questions, I find solace in a quote from Winston Churchill: “The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.”
I am pleased that we have constructed Pelham’s new Meridian Community Centre based on a solid business case analysis and that it will serve as our community’s gathering place and recreational space for people of all ages and abilities for decades to come.
You may contact Mayor Dave at email@example.com or read past columns at www.pelhammayordave.blogspot.ca.