Lacombe City council has deferred making a decision about how to approach renovating and upgrading the Lacombe arena.
Council voted on July 28th to defer making the decision until it could garner input from missing councilors at a later meeting.
Councilors Wayne Rempel and Bill McQuesten were absent from the July 28th meeting.
Council still did engage in a discussion about the proposed project to upgrade the arena, which would bring outdated sections of the building up to code and even upgrade existing areas like the current dress rooms for ice users.
Brenda Vaughan, community services director for the City of Lacombe, gave a presentation which broke down two options presented to council. One option would update and bring the building up to code at a cost of just over $10 million and the other would add the upgrades and expansion as well at a cost of over $14 million.
As council began their discussion, Councillor Peter Bouwsema voiced his support for the project.
“I like this project in terms that it is sustainable use of a building that we have had for many years,” said Bouwsema.
He added that, while he supports upgrading and maintaining the facility so that it can continue to be used, council is faced with an important and even difficult decision. Councillor Reuben Konnik said he felt the City should have sought public input regarding the project earlier.
He added residents who have spoken to him personally about the matter favoured only spending enough to bring the building up to code if council was intent on doing so. Konnik elaborated, saying he was aware of the advantages of the second option, such as improving the cramped dressing rooms but felt the feedback he received suggested the community would rather the City spend only as much as necessary. He added even that cost still seemed quite high to him.
“My kid played minor hockey for five years, I know what the sizes of those dressing rooms are like,” said Konnik.
“Ten million dollars – I’m still taken aback by that. I mean we are going to build a police station for less, it’s just a huge amount of dollars. But if you are going to spend that money, fine, but just bring that building up to code.”
Councillor Wayne Armishaw had similar thoughts to share.
“The input from users has been, to us individual councilors and the sampling of taxpayers that have spoken with me . . . nobody is really in favour of this,” said Armishaw. He added that some have raised the question if it wouldn’t be better to build a new facility.
Mayor Steve Christie did not agree the arena was not worth upgrading, saying the project reminded him of the Lacombe Memorial Centre, which was another project where the original building had been added onto in order to create a fantastic facility.
“We have taken a cinderblock building and turned it into a magnificent project with the LMC,” said Christie. “It reminds me so much of the LMC.”
As the debate went on, Councillor Grant Harder expressed his displeasure that council might make a decision without hearing from its two missing members.
“I’m disappointed that we are missing two of our councillors because their opinions are very valuable,” said Harder. Council then voted 4-1 to defer the decision with Konnik opposed.
It is important to note the entire cost of the project, whichever option is decided on, may not completely fall on the City, officials say. In her presentation, Vaughan said that the City plans to pursue other avenues of funding, such as grants and approaching partners to save the City from that burden. That is something Chief Administrative Officer Norma MacQuarrie also reminded council. “We absolutely want council to know (this is) a worst case scenario.”