Bonfire Life
April 23, 2019

North Bay debating ice-pad debt direction

A divided North Bay council is pondering, once again, how best to spend $20 or 30 million dollars it doesn’t have to replace aging community infrastructure.

Tonight’s meeting will entertain a motion to spend $250,000 to cost out a twin-pad ice surface facility in two competing locations. It will take three months, time well spent or time-wasted, depending on who you ask.

Adding to the Steve Omischl Sports Fields Complex at the south end of the city is favoured by, among others, Deputy Mayor Tanya Vrebosch, former community services chairman Mark King and former long-time East Ferris mayor Coun. Bill Vrebosch.

Coun. Tanya Vrebosch, budget chief, and King would prefer to spend that money on site preparation, accelerate applications for funding and enter the process for tenders. The expediency is to replace the Sam Jacks Recreation Complex in West Ferris. Concerns about the wood-truss roof support, although bolstered by steel brace and cables, plus questions about a foundation issue in one corner, threaten its viability year-to-year.

Audio-only interview comments with Coun. King available HERE.

Not helping it is the high overhead of being a single-pad facility on a somewhat tight park property area highly valued for its outdoor recreation space (tennis courts, youth soccer open field and small ball diamond).

The counter option is beside Memorial Gardens, upgraded in a major way six years ago, with support to investigate full costing supported by Mayor Al McDonald, Coun. Johanne Broussard, chairwoman of the community services committee and Coun. Dave Mendicino, among others. See the podcast video interview with Coun. Mendicino available HERE.

(The preferences of other councillors will be added when verified. Email: [email protected])

Mendicino says it would be a disservice to the community to not fully explore the costs and benefits of the two locations before making a major decision.

While the cost is expected to be significantly higher at the Gardens, with parking and traffic flow infrastructure hiking the overall bill, there’s potential for more return on investment massing three rinks, the YMCA and the commercial sector on a block of the highway bypass.

Sports tourism is heralded at both sites, with each option offering pros and cons.

Omischl has quite a bit more bedrock to build on although some pockets of swamp will require unknown quantities of fill (mostly available from sheering off the top of the Canadian Shield). It could be expanded to four-pads if ever required, which might not be that far away with the Pete Palangio twin-pad in Birchaven, north end, a perpetual capital spending liability.

Promised to be included would be change rooms for field teams as well as ice users, solving a long-standing deficiency of the complex. And if they build the facility roof high enough, it could block out the sunset that blinds ball players on the misaligned diamonds.

Also part of the equation is the replacement of the facility that may be shut down in West Ferris, a long-time community investment dating back before amalgamation.

Not featured yet would be a community centre component that might help funding applications, with the distance to residential and commercial enterprises not helping its location (although the southern area of North Bay and West Ferris is expected to develop around it in the next decade or so).

Interesting to note, Omischl is further away from the West Ferris arena than the Gardens, 5.3 km compared to 3.4 km

At the Gardens, which saw a nearly $20-million infusion to bring the OHL Battalion to the city in 2013, two additional pads generate exponential overhead efficiencies. And there’s also merit to having a tri-plex when hosting tournaments, conferences and events.

To address parking and traffic flow for the congested area, an entrance from Fisher Street, a bridge over Chippewa Creek and parking on the now Rollie Fischer football field is suggested by some. A second entrance from an extended Olive Street off Cassells Street is also contemplated.

The renovated Gardens helped the city host the Ford World Women’s Curling Championship last spring, with an economic spin-off pegged at about $8 million.

One of the nagging questions is how this might tie into the contract with the OHL Battalion, which has concession and many other rights at the Gardens.

A complete analysis of the financial impact of the city’s business relationship with the Battalion would help answer some questions.

McDonald touts the need for a 1,000-person convention centre to be an easily convertible feature of one pad added to the Gardens, which adds to the city’s hosting capacity.

King headed up a sub-committee recently looking at the issue but time ran out and there was little appetite to rush a decision before the municipal election last fall.

Throwing the process off-kilter, aside from a procedural misstep, were several last-minute suggestions at various other locations. Chief among the ideas was the thought of a deal involving the North Bay Mall, the District of Nipissing Social Services Board and other agencies and organizations. Daycare and senior car would be included with two ice pads in the centre of the former township getting a major economic boost.

King said it was difficult getting the right people in the same room as key staff vacationed that summer and the election loomed.

Meanwhile, some people wonder if the investment is actually necessary with numbers of students causing schools to close, coupled with an aging population.

One idea to solve parking and traffic problems at the Gardens if additional pads are added is an entrance from Fisher Street, a bridge over Chippewa Creek and parking on the now Rollie Fischer football field. A second entrance from an extended Olive Street off Cassells Street is contemplated.
One idea to solve parking and traffic problems at the Gardens if additional pads are added is an entrance from Fisher Street, a bridge over Chippewa Creek and parking on the now Rollie Fischer football field. A second entrance from an extended Olive Street off Cassells Street is contemplated.

A multi-purpose facility study states there’s a heavier need for ice time than seven years ago when the report was first published in 2012. Girls hockey, AAA expansion and the Nipissing University women’s hockey Lakers added to the demand.

There’s a regional aspect to the market with East Ferris, Powassan, Trout Creek, Temiscaming, QC, Sturgeon Falls, Verner and Noelville benefitting from any ice time North Bay can’t offer.

This story will be updated … email comments to [email protected]

 

(A video podcast interview with Coun. Dave Mendicino and audio-recorded interview with Coun. Mark King are posted to the Small Town Times YouTube channel  … problems with my computer or the rural high-speed internet upload speed delayed the uploading).

 

[email protected]

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