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Powassan debates future of arenas, considers benefits of new facility

·4 min read

A Powassan councillor wants a special committee to look into rising costs at the Sportsplex, the Curling Club and Trout Creek Community Centre and whether a single building should eventually replace all three.

Randy Hall suggested the creation of a special committee, made up of residents, town council and municipal staff, at Tuesday's regular council meeting.

The goal would be to have a report back to council before Christmas on what future direction to pursue.

Staff are expected to put together information on how to form a committee ahead of council's next meeting May 18.

“The committee would look at how the buildings can go more green, generate more revenue, look at employees, costs and look at reducing operating costs,” Hall said.

All three buildings have single ice surfaces. In 2019, the cost to operate them was $613,494. In 2020, costs rose almost eight per cent to $658,607.

Hall said none of the buildings carry mortgages and the costs account for all revenue brought in for each of those years.

Over the last 10 years, he said the three buildings have cost Powassan taxpayers more than $5 million.

Hall said he wants the committee to explore the possibility of replacing the facilities with one building, allowing for more cost-effective evaporators and compressors, better lighting and reduced employee expenses.

He said it could make it easier to host major events and expand existing ones if there was more seating.

Hall emphasized he had no desire to close any of the facilities, nor would that happen in the short term.

But he pointed out that the three existing buildings are getting older and more expensive to operate.

Hall is a member of the Trout Creek Community Centre board and told council he wondered how many more years were left in that arena. He also had concerns with the Sportsplex, saying it may need more upgrades in the future.

Hall said the municipality would not pursue construction of a new facility alone, adding if the provincial or federal governments made money available for infrastructure, Powassan could get a jump on the work if it had a shovel-ready project.

Mayor Peter McIsaac pointed out that upgrades about 10 years ago to the buildings account for part of the current costs.

He said the municipality borrowed money to carry out the upgrades, with the last loan payment being made this July.

Once the loans are paid off, he said costs would be cut by about $100,000, although Hall said that still leaves about $550,000 in annual operating expenses.

McIsaac also pointed out that a new arena would not be cheap. Even if Powassan could build a smaller facility for $25 million, and was able to secure an interest-free loan, it would take 25 years to pay off the loan at $1 million a year. That's before operating costs are factored in.

McIsaac said it's going to be difficult to find more savings with the existing facilities.

He said they've been through energy audits and changed the lighting. But the bottom line is they are expensive to run.

However, he welcomed council members to find more efficient ways to run the buildings.

“There are definitely cost savings out there that can be done,” McIsaac said.

He said it's a good idea to have a shovel-ready plan in place should the facilities outlive their lives and government funding becomes available in 20 years.

Hall said he's certain the operating costs at all three facilities will keep rising and the responsible thing for council to do is have a committee look at alternatives.

“There may come a time in the future where we can only afford one” arena, he said.

One point Hall and McIsaac both agreed on was getting the outlying communities, whose residents use Powassan's facilities, to somehow share the costs.

McIsaac said years ago, the municipality had cost-sharing agreements with them, but those ended over time.

“There are many benefits to the communities that surround us that the taxpayers of Powassan take on,” McIsaac said, meaning local taxpayers foot the cost for the arenas that outlying residents enjoy at no expense to them.

Coun. Dave Britton suggested the proposed committee find a way to rebuild the cost-sharing agreements, which would save Powassan some money.

Coun. Markus Wand said from a business standpoint, the easiest solution is to close the arenas because they're money losers. However, Wand said that isn't a real solution, because arenas provide value to a community.

Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative, The North Bay Nugget