I apologize for my lack of material these past weeks but 1) I’ve been bogged down in 101 details of committees I’m on and such and 2) I haven’t been entirely certain I’m not wasting my time. Well now some of the issues have died down, at least for the moment and I just feel like writing, if only for myself, so here goes.
A couple of weeks ago, our City Council held a special Committee of the Whole meeting to discuss the City’s aging buildings once again. In the end, they managed to put together a priority list which lays out the order these properties will be taken care of. Likely to no one’s surprise, follows Councillor Ugulini’s recommendation of making the Thorold Arenas number one on the list, arguing that improving the ice availability might possibly actually make the City some money.
The first step was already taken this year with new dressing room facilities and work on drainage problems at the front wall of the New Arena. $1.1 million was budgeted for that project. This year, budget deliberations allowing, they’ll likely start trying to save the Old Arena since they’ve discovered that they might be able to get another 20 years out of it by putting $650,000 into stabilizing the foundation instead of the impossible task of trying to replace the arena at close to $7 million dollars. By debenturing the cost, that would be a little over half a percentage point on the taxes for the life of the loan. The work which yet needs to be done on the New Arena will likely add up to an additional $4 million.
I don’t know how much revenue can be taken from the arenas eventually – I’ve heard no estimates – but at present they cost the $485,000/year to operate, over and above revenues. Work on the the buildings, broken down into dentures, will still require another half million a year in payments for approximately ten years. All told, that makes almost $1 million worth of cost per year year to the taxpayers for ten years. It’s argued that improvements will save them money through improved efficiencies but it’s hard to imagine those savings and increased revenues approaching a half million dollars a year. Arenas are necessary but revenue-producing? I think you’d have to search long and hard to find one that pays for itself without multiple professional teams and huge concert events.
Second on the list is to be the new Operations Centre, which has been shoved ever onto the back burner for years now. Personally, I agree with Councillor Longo that it should maybe be done first because, as he commented, the working conditions there are “deplorable”. He wondered, in fact, how anyone can work in there and pointed out that, while the arenas are important to some, every single taxpayer is dependent on the Operations Centre. “We defer everything but we look like heroes because the arena looks great,” he said.
The original cost of about $5 million for a completely new Operations Centre has been pared down to a more manageable $1.9 million by drawing up remodeling plans for the present building. Operations Director Mike Sawchuk said, though, that it can’t be done in stages as it would be too disruptive and they wouldn’t be able to get any work done during the construction. That still seems like a lot of money perhaps, but that’s what happens when you don’t take of your property: all of a sudden the repairs total more than you have.
Third on the list is to be Fire Station #1. I know that will raise plenty of hackles. After all, talk about something that everyone’s lives depend upon! But Chief Seth believes the present station could be saved, although it will require some remodeling and foundation work. As to Station #3 in Port Robinson, staff recommended that, instead of spending money on further repairs at that station, that training for Port Robinson Volunteers be moved permanently to Station #2 in Thorold South.
For those of you wondering about Chestnut Hall, it would be next under this schedule. That and the Thorold Public Library, as their destinies are intertwined as the Library has their meeting/programme room room there as well as the washrooms, janitor’s space and storage. All the utilities for the Library also go through Chestnut Hall, since the Library at first had the entire building. No decision was made on how the buildings would be dealt with, but the foundations and roof are under way, so at least it won’t get much worse. There’s talk of severing and selling the Hall and then selling it and some property in the back to pay for expansion of the Library to get their space back, but who knows?
The Community Centres come in next at number five. Nothing has been decided on any of them and still generally the options are left that were the last time they talked about the City’s buildings. There’s no rush to figure it out I suppose. After all, it’ll be some time before they even the get the Arenas out of the way, never mind the rest. By the time they get to this the buildings may have fallen down, saving them a lot of work. In any case, considering that it’ll take eight years to get this far at $1 million/year of investment, it’s unlikely that any of them will be on council to see it, even if they all serve another term after this one.
Now that you’ve seen the priority list, it’s only fair to tell you that they also decided that, should grant money come along that will support any of these projects, any one or all of them could jump the line.