Morris-Turnberry votes to support Brussels arena renovation
BY DENNY SCOTT
After Huron East Chief Administrative Officer Brad McRoberts did his best to answer a bevy of questions about the proposed renovations to the Brussels, Morris and Grey Community Centre, Morris-Turnberry Council has pledged its support to the project.
During Morris-Turnberry Council’s Nov. 2 meeting, McRoberts provided formal responses to the questions posed by Morris-Turnberry Council at a special Oct. 7 meeting, which ranged from commitment from hockey teams to use the facility to what to do if community fundraising falls short. McRoberts said the questions were well-thought-out, but difficult to answer when they were posed during last month’s special meeting. During that meeting, council raised serious concerns about increasing its contribution to the project from $159,600 to $469,900, an increase driven by supply and labour shortages.
The first question tackled by McRoberts was what kind of commitments teams had made to using the facility, as well as whether or not a gym would be part of the project.
“Municipalities do not know, year to year, what the commitment from recreation or community centre users will be,” McRoberts said in his report to Morris-Turnberry. “No user commits to a facility a year in advance, except for recurring annual events or weddings.”
While he couldn’t speak to commitments, McRoberts said he could address why the facility had seen declining use, tying it directly to the size and number of dressing rooms.
He said bigger dressing rooms are necessary, in addition to increasing the number of rooms to accommodate different gender identities.
McRoberts said it was not just the centre in Brussels facing those problems.
“Historically, we’ve sent female team members to utility rooms or storage closets,” he said. “It’s demeaning and unacceptable.”
He also said that some younger organizations share the ice, leading to four teams on the ice at the same time.
“We have four teams at the same time and have four dressing rooms,” he said. “There’s no chance for the next teams to be able to dress.”
The need for increased dressing room capacity is apparent, he said, with the Huron Heat Female Hockey Association and the Huron-Perth Lakers AAA Minor Hockey Association moving to other facilities because of the lack of dressing rooms, and the small size of the rooms.
As far as Morris-Turnberry residents using the facility, McRoberts said the Blyth Brussels Minor Hockey Association says that 25-30 per cent of the association’s players come from Morris-Turnberry, and that the association had one of only six juvenile teams in the Western Ontario Athletics Association (WOAA).
Next, McRoberts spoke to what kind of fundraising was expected and how much had already been raised. He said that more than $287,000 had been pledged or raised so far, including $150,000 from local service clubs, $40,000 from an anonymous donor, $50,000 from the Brussels Trust and $47,382 from the Brussels, Morris and Grey Management Board Fundraising and Memorial Fund.
In total, 20 per cent of the community fundraising goal of $1,400,000 had already been met and the campaign hadn’t even started yet, McRoberts said.
“The Brussels community, including residents and businesses of Morris-Turnberry, have demonstrated strong philanthropic traits and the Brussels, Morris and Grey Management Board are confident they will meet their objective,” he said in his report. “Retaining the services of Campaign Coaches to support the fundraising campaign demonstrates a level of commitment, professionalism and structure to the fundraising effort.”
McRoberts, in the report, said that relying on fundraising does pose some risk to reaching the final goal, but that Brussels and its surrounding communities have proven they are able to achieve fundraising goals.
Next, McRoberts addressed Morris-Turnberry Council’s concern that costs could escalate even further, even after the significant increase that resulted in a multi-million-dollar increase in the project’s price.
McRoberts said that could happen, but the councils would have several options in that scenario. In his report, he provided three options, including re-scoping the project and retendering it, negotiating with the lowest tender price contractor to clarify or modify the design to reduce costs or increase funding to the project. He also said that councils could walk away from the project, however that will leave necessary work unfinished, which will end up costing both municipalities money sooner rather than later.
That transitioned to the next question, which asked about only completing required work if the expansion is no longer affordable.
McRoberts, through his report, said the roof, dressing rooms and lobby are considered required by the committee so the facility can continue to function as a recreation site.
“From a provincial and federal funding perspective, the key components of the project are the roof, dressing rooms, fitness centre and the lobby/viewing area,” he said. “Deviation from these components could jeopardize the funding program, as it would be seen as a de-scoping of the project and would require provincial and federal approval.”
He said minor changes could be made, but those would only produce minor savings and may not be worthwhile.
“The success of the project depends [on the] success of each of the components of the project,” McRoberts said in the report. “If one component is removed or fails to achieve its objective, the project, as a whole, will have [been] considered to have failed. Deferring the project will not likely result in any cost savings, as supply and labour shortages do not appear to be [easing] and inflation is on the rise.
“The project, as currently proposed, is not excessive or elaborate,” he said, “it is merely updating a facility such that it can remain functional as a recreation and community centre.”
McRoberts also said that the term “affordable” needed to be addressed as, if the project goes ahead as its proposed, Morris-Turnberry residents will receive the benefit of a $7.2 million value for a $469,900 cost, or 6.5 cents on the dollar.
Finally, McRoberts addressed Morris-Turnberry Council’s last question: what would happen if council were to say no to the increased contribution.
“From a financial perspective, it is worthy to note that, should Morris-Turnberry decide not to further support the project, the project will likely not proceed,” McRoberts said in the report. “Nonetheless, the roof of the facility will still require replacement. Based on the project cost estimates, Morris-Turnberry’s share [of the roof replacement] would be $240,000, which is more than Morris-Turnberry’s current committed contribution [of $159,600] and provides no net improvement to the functionality of the facility.”
McRoberts said the lack of appropriate dressing rooms will continue to affect the participation rates at the facility, resulting in decreased revenue and increased net operating costs, which will require further contributions from both Morris-Turnberry and Huron East to offset the operational deficit of the facility.
“Undertaking the renovation will provide the opportunity to increase revenues and decrease net operating costs to both municipalities,” he said. “For an additional $229,000, Morris-Turnberry will be supporting an enhanced community-based recreation and social gathering facility that will serve the residents of Morris-Turnberry and Huron East for the next 40 years.”
McRoberts also said that, if council declines to participate, it would result in a “stalemate”, as Morris-Turnberry and Huron East have a contract dictating that Morris-Turnberry is responsible for a percentage of the costs at the facility (24 per cent, versus Huron East’s 76 per cent). That stalemate could lead to the termination of the agreement, McRoberts said, which would represent the elimination of a 17-year-long, mutually-beneficial recreational partnership between the two municipalities.
It could also result in Morris-Turnberry residents being barred from the facilities or a non-resident user fee system implemented for Morris-Turnberry users.
“Lack of access or a non-resident user fee system for Morris-Turnberry residents could significantly harm or destroy local organized recreation sports associations within Morris-Turnberry and Huron East,” he said. “It should be noted that the facility is used by both Morris-Turnberry and Huron East residents for curling, hockey, [pickleball], agricultural fair events, [service club functions], weddings, social events and community fundraising dinners.”
Finally, McRoberts said Huron East Council might consider fronting a portion of Morris-Turnberry’s cost, provided a repayment agreement could be established that would guarantee Huron East would recover the full amount, including principal and interest.
After McRoberts’ presentation, Morris-Turnberry Mayor Jamie Heffer said McRoberts’ efforts were appreciated, and that the mention that Huron East and Morris-Turnberry could walk away from the project if costs continued to increase was “key”.
“That message needs to get out there,” he said. “I’m confident the community is going to get behind this, if they know that upfront.”
Councillor Jim Nelemans was reticent about the involvement of Campaign Coaches, saying that they were involved to make money, and that he had been told Morris-Turnberry residents are concerned about the $1.4 million goal.
“They are concerned the money won’t be raised,” he said. “We all hope it will be raised, but what happens if it isn’t?”
McRoberts said that fundraising campaigns that aren’t well organized may not hit their goal, while those that are planned can exceed their goal, pointing to his previous experience in helping raise $10 million in Owen Sound for a similar project.
Nelemans, however, discounted McRoberts’ experience saying one donor “put a slug of money in there.” McRoberts said there was one big donor, but that donation didn’t account for the whole $10 million.
Deputy-Reeve Sharen Zinn said she understood the necessity of dressing room expansion, being a hockey mom herself. She said she had seen the inside of maintenance rooms used as changing rooms for female players and they aren’t a nice place to be. She also said she was impressed with the information McRoberts presented, including the 20 per cent commitment, and the number of users who come from Morris-Turnberry.
Zinn then asked McRoberts about the starting date for the project and he said tenders would go out early next year. He also addressed other concerns Zinn had about the use of the facility during construction, saying the majority of the work will be on the south and east ends of the existing structure and won't impact the main entrance, so the arena should still be accessible. The new roof will be installed over the old one, he said, further preventing any kind of problems.
“The renovations will have a minimal impact on operations of the facility,” he said.
After thanking McRoberts for providing information on the proposed renovation, council discussed the issue during a closed-to-the-public session, which was called to discuss Huron East’s new funding request. After the discussion, council unanimously voted in open session to support the project at the increased amount, though not without conditions.
The motion, proposed by Councillor Kevin Freiburger and seconded by Zinn, reads as follows: “THAT the Council of the Morris-Turnberry hereby grants the request of Huron East to increase Morris-Turnberry’s contribution for the Brussels, Morris and Grey Community Centre renovation to $469,000.00 subject to favorable (sic) terms being reached with Huron East for the financing of the project.”
Along with McRoberts’ report, Morris-Turnberry Chief Administrative Officer Trevor Hallam also presented nearly a dozen pieces of correspondence regarding the issue to council from community residents, many of whom are from Morris-Turnberry, all encouraging council to consider supporting the renovations.
One pointed out that agricultural tax assessments had increased substantially, and said the extra revenue should allow council to consider supporting the project, which would give the “community a real boost.” Other users of the facility said the renovations were needed while others said ratepayers should have some say about the project.
Most agreed that recreational facilities are important to the community and Morris-Turnberry should support the project. There were no e-mails against Morris-Turnberry’s involvement in the project.
While council didn’t discuss the correspondence, later in the meeting Councillor Jamie McCallum asked if there was more correspondence to consider. Hallam said some had been received after the deadline for the agenda and would be presented at a later date.