Second sheet of ice not a done deal yet

With grants, loans and donations, about $3.65 million is currently available for construction of a second sheet of ice.

The second sheet of ice project was the focus of the Town of Smithers Let’s Talk forum March 19.

The meeting gave council an opportunity to explain what has been done to this point and what steps are required to move forward with the initiative, Mayor Taylor Bachrach said.

At this time, a design-build tender has been advertised, with bids to be opened March 28.

The tender was to build a modest NHL-sized arena, with about 350 seats, six change rooms and public washrooms.

The dimensions of the arena will also allow for seating to be added in the future if there is a need and funding is available.

“The vision here is a really positive one,” Bachrach said.

“We’re talking about a new recreation amenity for our community and it’s going to be one more thing that attracts people to Smithers and it makes us a really awesome place to live, work and play.

“We’ve been talking about this for 20 years.

“At this point, we either want to build the thing or move on to other priorities.”

With grants, loans and donations, about $3.65 million is currently available for construction of a second sheet of ice.

Another $250,000 grant has also been applied for, which would bring the total amount raised for the project to about $3.9 million.

The annual operating cost for the arena has been estimated at about $175,000 per year.

Andrew Hillaby, Town of Smithers director of recreation, parks and culture, spoke to the demand for ice time at the current arena and if there would be enough users looking for ice time.

Currently, there are requests for ice time that cannot be met and no room for growth for current users or new organizations such as speed skating, daycares or three-on-three youth hockey, Hillaby said.

“One of the reasons minor hockey doesn’t grow, is minor hockey can’t grow,” he said.

“There are definitely more people looking for ice time.”

Cam Armstrong, a Smithers resident for more than 40 years, questioned the need for a second sheet of ice for a community of about 5,000 people and expressed concern regarding the operating costs.

“In the last 40 years we haven’t increased much in population and I certainly can’t see us going through the roof in the next bit,” he said.

Armstrong said he has spoken at length with city officials from Prince George who suggested a tax base of 15,000 people, not including outlying areas, before going ahead with a second arena.

Armstrong said he would be in favour of spending the money already secured and fixing the current arena.

That is, if the existing structure is deemed to be safe for many years to come.

Concerns were also raised about which area residents would help to build and maintain the new arena.

RDBN Rural Area A residents, who live within the fire protection area, are currently deciding if they will contribute to the construction and maintenance of the second sheet of ice.

Michael Mehr, one of the driving forces behind the construction of the squash courts and climbing wall at the BV Pool and Rec Centre, said he heard similar concerns when that project was coming together but urged council to move forward.

“I think we have to be realistic,” Mehr said.

“There is money there now, people have been working a very long time for it.

“A bigger arena isn’t a realistic option right now.

“It’s been long enough.”

Second Sheet of Ice committee chairman Al McCreary has been involved in the project for 25 years.

Over that time, he said, countless feasibility studies and public consultations have been held.

Now, with nearly $4 million earmarked for the project, is the time to move ahead, McCreary said.

“We’ve done our homework, we’ve done our research,” he said.

“I think we’re heading toward the finish line.

“If you want the town to grow and if you want people to move here, we need to have these amenities.”

Once the bids are opened and the numbers analyzed, council will have to make the decision as to whether or not to proceed with the new arena.

“Leadership is making tough decisions and saying at some point we just need to get this done,” said councillor Phil Brienesse.

“It keeps costing more and more the longer we wait.

“If there’s a need in the community and they want it bad enough, we’ll find a way to make it happen.”