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Discussions continue regarding Sunderland Arena expansion

DARRYL KNIGHT The Standard BROCK: For more than a decade, expansion of Sunderland Arena has been a topic of discussion for Brock Council. At their meeting on Monday, July 17th, the matter was back before Council, as they heard an update from the Sunderland Lions Club and began to review a staff report on the potential project. Don Gordon served as the arena project chair for the local Lions Club and made a short presentation to councillors regarding the club’s activities to date on the project, as well as future contributions that will assist the project in getting over the finish line. “This project is at a critical juncture with considerations for funding procurement and the timeline for completion,” Mr. Gordon explained, adding that the Lions are looking at a total contribution as high as $800,000. The Lions have previously committed $500,000 towards the modernization project, which would see the ice surface expanded from 70 feet by 170 feet to 80 feet by 200 feet, bringing it closely in line with regulation size. Mr. Gordon added once the project is in place, the club is committed to fundraising a further $300,000 to bring their total contribution to $800,000. The project has been in the works for more than a decade and can trace its roots back to 2011. That’s when a comprehensive review of Brock’s arenas was proposed by Council, which led to Brock’s first recreation master plan in 2012. This report set the wheels in motion for the original proposal for Sunderland arena expansion by Sunderland Lions Club. Beyond expanding the ice surface, the project also calls for new dressing rooms, an improved facade, accessibility improvements and upgrades to the viewing areas, which could include upstairs options. Architect drawings were first commissioned for the project in 2017. In March 2021, the Township received word the ICIP Grant was approved, with combined funding being provided from the Federal and Provincial Governments of approximately $5,485,000. However, the spike in construction costs has recently seen the project budget stretch from its original $7.4 million to the current $10 million figure. While Council was presented with a comprehensive report from staff, some felt the report could have been even more in-depth to provide greater scope and include potential ramifications for other township facilities. “Regrettably, it is not the report I was hoping for. It’s not the report I promised to the members of Council or the public,” explained Mayor Walter Schummer. “I’m uncomfortable with the report. Not only is there not a detailed list of options for all of our arenas and a thorough review of the possibilities for their future. Disturbed by the omission of items like the underlying thoughts that once the Sunderland project is complete, the real goal will be the shuttering of an arena, [which] will likely be Cannington.” The mayor noted that Council has had several opportunities over the past decade-plus to better shape its future direction for recreation facilities in the Township and rise to the unique challenges of a municipality with three similar-sized communities, each with its own individual facilities. “I’m not here saying that we must keep all three arenas,” added Mayor Schummer. “But, this thought process has been in place for well over a decade, going back to the 2012 recreation master plan. According to this report that will be undertaken in another term of Council and I don’t like the idea of kicking it again down the road. There’s nothing to stop us from having that conversation, and I would urge Council to have that conversation, if not in the next month, then very soon.” Responding to ongoing discussions in the community regarding a new twin-pad facility, Regional Councillor Mike Jubb noted that a project of that nature is now financially out of reach for the Township. “It’s not 2014 where we could’ve built a new twin-pad facility for $12 to $15 million,” noted Councillor Jubb. Adding a new twin-pad arena today would result in a 34 percent tax increase, and that figure does not include the demolition cost of one of the existing buildings, which would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Councillor Jubb reiterated his support for this project but was cognizant of changes that may have to be made to keep the project within budget. “We have to be ready that this project will not complete the whole original scope because of budget constraints,” added Councillor Jubb. “We are committed to this building. We’ve already invested $180,000 in drawings and a further $175,000 for a new roof and other improvements just a few months ago.” Under a timeline proposed by Treasurer Trena DeBruijn, if everything goes according to plan, shovels could be in the ground at Sunderland Arena as early as Spring 2024. Township CAO Ingrid Svelnis added that it’s crucial for the municipality to have all of its pieces in place ahead of construction. Everyone we talk to says the same thing that if you don’t have it managed well at the beginning, you’re going to pay dearly at the end,” cautioned Ms. Svelnis. “It’s going to be easier to move forward once we have an approved range. You don’t want to incur costs at the front end of this project, and the goal is to have shovels in the ground in spring 2024, but it’s absolutely key to have that de-scope range in place in case there are changes that have to be made.” Ms. Svelnis added the grant funding allows the municipality until 2027 to complete the project and urged the municipality to contact the province as soon as possible to ensure the project is in line with any possible conditions for the funding as it relates to accessibility or community improvement. This would be crucial in guiding choices of which elements to proceed with once construction becomes a reality. The staff report was received by councillors for information. Any decision on the project was deferred to at least the next meeting (August 14th) to allow for Council and the public more time to make comments to the municipality, and follow-up questions, for additional research from councillors, staff and stakeholders and further discussion.

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