Smithers town council will be extending the ongoing saga of the second sheet of ice project, after being informed last week that their application for the federal Enabling Accessibility grant has been denied. Council held a short-notice Committee of the Whole meeting with Al McCreary from the Second Sheet of Ice Committee, to discuss options for the project, now that almost $3 million in grant funding is no longer on the table.
“Unfortunately we’ve now been turned down on four major federal grants. It’s been frustrating both as a community and as a committee when the federal government doesn’t seem to feel that Smithers needs new and upgraded recreation facilities,” said McCreary.
Mayor Cress Farrow agreed that the denial for the grant request was frustrating, while also pointing out the Town had spent a considerable amount of time and staff hours applying for the grant, and planning based on the grant funding.
“We had waited and waited and waited for that Access Grant, and we really felt that we had a really positive case. Then there was the federal election, and everyone said it was so important to us, let’s just wait that little extra bit of time. So we waited, and then you find out that out of 300 plus applications, there was only four grants given out for Canada. It just leaves you with a sour taste in your mouth, saying, ‘you know what, if we’d known that, we would have proceeded quite a number of months ago,’” said Farrow.
Council passed a motion last Tuesday to issue a Request For Proposals (RFP), informing potential contractors that the Town has a budget of just over $2 million, with the Second Sheet of Ice Committee on the hook to raise the rest of the money. Since it’s simply an RFP, the newly elected Council that will debate any potential proposals will not be obligated to commit to anything. The Town also has authorization from a past referendum to borrow up to $650,000 towards the project, but that amount will not be included in the budget in the RFP. Farrow said Council is opposed to borrowing any money unless it’s really necessary.
The intention of the RFP, with the possibility of constructing a building but not an ice plant, is to try to get better value for the money already in the bank. McCreary said the cost of steel for a rink is going up by $50,000 or more a year, while the money in the bank is raising around $20,000 in interest.
“It seems we’re going backwards rather than going forwards, so that was what was behind the suggestion that we go ahead and build the building,” said McCreary.
To date, the lowest priced rink proposal received by the Town is for a cost of $5.1 million; the other proposal was for a range between $5.8 and $6.3 million. Original estimates late last year indicated a cost of $4.25 million. Whatever the cost might eventually total, councillor Charlie Northrup raised concerns about being able to pay for the rest of the facility if the next Council proceeds with building a partially completed facility.
“I just want to confirm in the committee’s mind that that’s the right idea, to start a new shell with maybe 30% of the money raised. Are we smart to be doing this? I can see us getting the shell up there, no plant, then where are we going to get the next $4 million?” he asked.
“Sitting on the council’s side of the fence, rather than the ice users’ side of the fence, the taxpayers of Smithers have accepted the referendum amount of 650k, but I don’t see them accepting more,” said Northrup. “If you didn’t have funding, and you weren’t 75 per cent there, I wouldn’t support the community’s liability.”
Farrow said that the RFP process will allow Council to figure out all their options, without committing the Town to actually building anything or becoming liable for any funding shortfalls.
“I’m very comfortable with the decision to go out for a Request For Proposals,” he said. “It’s about finding out whether we would even be able to get a shell put up, and then we can move forward.”